Castlemaine plantation a high fire risk, says research

ENVIRONMENTAL groups say the Moonlight Flat plantation in Castlemaine should stop production altogether because of its high fire risk.

The plantation was burnt last week by a small fire that police suspect was deliberately lit.

Environmental organisation Friends of the Earth said a recent study into the Moonlight Flat plantation, and other plantations around the state, showed a growing bushfire risk.

He said with further dry conditions, they would pose an increasingly serious danger of a large fire.

“There’s been a massive spike in the amount of plantations lost over the last few years,” Friends of the Earth spokesman Anthony Amis said.

“Almost 80 per cent of fires within Victorian plantations occurred in the past decade.”

The research showed a lot of these plantations were developed at inappropriate sites, Mr Amis said. 

“There’s a fair number of plantations now that appear to be more hazardous in terms of fire risk and their proximity to residents. A good example of that is the Castlemaine plantation with properties only 2km away.”

According to the Mount Alexander Shire Municipal Fire Management Plan, the pine plantation has been classified as “high” fuel hazard level.

Hancock Pine Plantations Western Victoria region general manager Dean Turner said the company have their own forest industry brigade.

He said fire prevention works such as slashing of fire breaks were carried out each summer, with fire safety the organisation’s biggest priority.

“It’s something that’s taken extremely seriously,” he said.

Mr Amis said if the plantation industry is to continue, they must put greater emphasis into climate change and fire risks “or retire production altogether”.