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14 December 2019 - 4 February 2020

This submission tells the story of how the RFS started a backburn for an unknown reason, in dire weather conditions, that caused it to become out of control within 5 hours of it being lit.

Then, how the RFS failed to issue public warnings for this fire causing communities to be unprepared for a burn-over event that caused the loss of homes, destruction of property and adversely impacted the health and wellbeing of tens of thousands of people.


The people of Mt Tomah and Berambing were caught in a burn over event on Sunday 15 December 2019 when the RFS lost control of a backburn it had lit at Mt Wilson. No RFS emergency warnings were issued before the fire front engulfed these communities.

The Mt Wilson Backburn fire burnt for another 53 days entering the Grose Valley, destroying 63,700 hectares and threatening thousands of homes in the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains Local Government Areas, while blanketing the Sydney basin with smoke.


Smoke plume from the escaped Mt Wilson Backburn as it impacts Mt Tomah and Berambing on 15 December 2019 (source: Nina Lipscombe Art)

On 13 December 2019, the NSW RFS had a containment strategy for the Gospers Mountain Fire. It was that this fire would be extinguished by the deep ravines and creeks in the terrain that surrounded it, and this is exactly what happened.

However, on 14 December the NSW RFS decided to light a backburn at Mt Wilson and claim it was the Gospers Mountain Fire. The Mt Wilson Backburn fire remained separate and distant from the Gospers Mountain Fire until it was extinguished on 4 February 2020.

The reason for the RFS lighting of the Mt Wilson Backburn fire and then calling it the Gospers Mountain Fire remains unknown and continues to cause distress to the communities it burnt out.

The reason for the RFS not issuing public warnings for the 100 households at Mt Tomah and Berambing in the path of the Mt Wilson Backburn fire on the 14th and 15th December when it breached containment lines; or when properties were coming under ember attack, or when properties were being impacted by spot fires; or when properties were being deluged with fire retardant from very large air tankers; or when coming under direct fire attack, is unknown. This also continues to cause distress in the communities impacted by the fire on 15 December 2019.

This submission asks the coroner to consider whether the RFS acted unreasonably when it lit the Mt Wilson Backburn and whether it breached its statutory duty under the Rural Fire Act 1997 when it did not issue public warnings for this fire on 14 or 15 December 2019.

This submission also asks the coroner to reinforce recommendations of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry 2020 for which the RFS response has been insufficient to prevent us from being burnt out again without warning.


The escaped Mt Wilson Backburn caused significant damage to the environment in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. (Source: Jochen Spencer)

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