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‘Luck’ Saves Tuna Industry From Bushfire

Sheer luck may have saved the heart of Australia’s tuna fishing industry as a bushfire swept towards Port Lincoln on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula.

The fire destroyed 280 hectares of scrub and severely damaged two tuna processing businesses as it blazed to within 300 meters of the Port Lincoln township on Tuesday.

Three homes on the outskirts of the town were lost along with several sheds and dog boarding kennels, with the total damage bill likely to run to several million dollars.

Four firefighters and two local residents were also treated for minor injuries.

Country Fire Service (CFS) crews contained the fire on Wednesday after a wind shift and cooler conditions.

CFS chief officer Euan Ferguson said a rapid response from firefighters and other emergency services had saved many properties.

But they were unable to prevent the blaze gutting the seafood cold store of Dinko Lukin and the net shed and workshop operated by Hagen Stehr.

Australian Tuna Boat Owners Association president Brian Jeffriess said while the damage would affect the industry it could have been much worse.

The concentrated efforts of emergency services played a big part in saving the other tuna processing operations that were at risk, Mr. Jeffriess said.

But he said in a couple of cases “sheer luck” also played a role.

”If, for example, the wind had shifted the other way it (the fire) would have taken the three major processing and factory operations in Port Lincoln,” Mr. Jeffriess told AAP.

”That would have destroyed the heart of the industry and if that happens, there’s no way back. If the product that is supplied by those factories is sourced somewhere else, there’s no way back.”

Tuesday’s fire revived memories of the devastating 2005 Wangary fires which blazed across the lower Eyre Peninsula, claiming nine lives.

Port Lincoln Mayor Peter Davis said the latest fire was a further reminder of the need for major firebreaks to protect the town, while the state opposition said a lack of native vegetation control contributed to the incident.

Opposition emergency services spokesman Stephen Wade said the state government had failed to act on recommendations dating back six years to do more to reduce fuel loads ahead of the fire season.

He said concerns were raised during the bushfire summit in 2003 and again in a coroner’s report into the 2005 bushfires.

”A whole series of reports have called for the government to reform native vegetation management to improve bushfire protection and it hasn’t happened,” Mr. Wade said.

”The current Port Lincoln fire is yet another reminder of the importance of effective management of native vegetation to prevent and control bushfires. The fact that the government has failed to put in place the tools that the CFS and local government needs to reduce the bushfire risk is criminal.”

But Mr Ferguson rejected suggestions not enough had been done to prevent bushfires on Eyre Peninsula.

”I would refute any allegation that work isn’t being done. I think there have been a lot of people that have been doing a lot of planning and a lot of implementation on the ground,” he said.

”This area just happens to be the next priority that was being looked at for treatment.”

Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the loss of property at Port Lincoln was distressing and the government was ready to provide assistance.

”Firefighters and local volunteers have done a fantastic job in bringing the blaze under control and are to be commended for their brave efforts,” Ms Gillard said.

She said the SA government had not yet requested assistance with recovery efforts on Eyre Peninsula, but the federal government was ready to provide help under natural disaster relief and recovery arrangements.