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Indigenous knowledge at the fire front as Bunjil Fire Brigade plays key role in large scale forest burn

Callan Morse -

The Country Fire Authority's only all-Indigenous fire brigade has supported one of the largest CFA planned and led forest burns on the Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust.

Held on Tuesday, the Bunjil Fire Brigade members assisted in site preparation and identification of culturally significant assets ahead of the 250 hectare burn that helps manage vegetation and reduce bushfire risk on the site that is around 80 per cent forest.

Bunjil Fire Brigade volunteer firefighter and crew team leader, Charmaine Sellings, said supporting the burn by providing local knowledge goes a long way to safeguarding the community.

"This burn is significant to us to reduce future bushfire risk. During the 19-20 bushfires, our land never got burnt but we were evacuated, so our plan is to make it as safe as we can for the community," Ms Sellings said.

Ms Sellings said a number of new recruits were on site in case they were needed with the brigade also wrapping trees and raking around them to prepare the area.

"As they are scarred trees, otherwise known as canoe trees, they play an important role in our history. Wrapping them will help protect them for cultural sensitivities as well as crew safety," Ms Sellings said.

The expansive burn involved more than 80 personnel and 20 vehicles from the South East, South West and North East and follows recommendations drawn from a bushfire mitigation risk report commissioned in 2018 for the LTAT.

Deputy Chief Officer South East Region, Trevor Owen said collaborating with the Indigenous community to conduct the burn ensures the the safety of this community ahead of the next fire season.

"We recognise that the area is of significant cultural value to the LTAT and the Aboriginal and Indigenous community, so we have been working to make sure we've taken the appropriate steps to protect them and the area," Mr Owen said.

"We know that during the 2019-2020 Gippsland bushfires, the community was concerned about the dense forested area, as it really is only one way in and one way out for them.

"This burn is about working in with the Indigenous owners of the land to reduce the fuel risk and fuel loads ahead of future bushfire seasons and ensure we're giving confidence back into the community."

Mr Owen said the burn also provides an authentic training opportunity for CFA crews.

"Given the scale of this burn, our volunteers have not had exposure to a fuel reduction of this size. This exercise allows them to practice their skills in a safe and controlled environment," Trevor said.

"It gives those involved exposure to working on a culturally significant site where we will be doing all we can to ensure minimal disturbance by avoiding the use of large, tracked vehicles."

The Bunjil Fire Brigade was established last year, with recruitment ongoing.

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