Bushfire lawsuit: Armidale farmers say burnoffs could have stopped Bees Nest blaze, threaten to sue

Much of Wytaliba was destroyed in bushfires last year.
Much of Wytaliba was destroyed in bushfires last year.

Six farmers hit by the massive Bees Nest blaze are threatening to sue in order to force National Parks to let them graze cattle and conduct burnoffs to protect themselves from future bushfires.

The fire smashed their properties and cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock and fencing lost to the enormous blaze that started last August in the Guy Fawkes National Park.

But their lawyer Peter Jackson said the group's primary goal is to force the Department of Parks and Wildlife to the negotiating table.


The farmers want to win back the right to graze cattle and conduct burnoffs themselves through the National Parks, and want greater consultation to prevent bushfires in the future, he said.

"There is no doubt that having cattle in there in the past did keep the fuel load down and therefore these sorts of fire did not occur; that's historically a fact," he said.

The Bees Nest bushfire burned through thousands of hectares of land near Armidale last year.

The Bees Nest bushfire burned through thousands of hectares of land near Armidale last year.

Last year landowners watched on as Parks firefighters spent days working to control the blaze, before it turned into an unstoppable inferno.

But they believe what became one of the season's largest fires could have been stopped three times.

First the risk of an out of control fire could have been reduced by grazing cattle or through regular burn offs through the park area, a practice that was once common but has been banned. The farmers say allege the service instead allowed the fuel load to build up, creating a bomb that fed the blaze.

But even after the fire took off on August 30, it could still have been stopped, they said. Two days later firefighting crews employed by National Parks had the fire "blacked out" - extinguished. But allegedly the service didn't station a truck to observe the blaze overnight, and spitting embers built up again.

The farmers also say Parks staff refused to listen to their advice while fighting the blaze; with the benefit of better local knowledge it could at a crucial moment have been "tied off" - choked out and contained by a combination of backburning and water saturation into a gully.

The Guy Fawkes blaze turned into the first mega fire of the season, with Bees Nest eventually burning all the way to Coffs Harbour.


Along with policy change, the farmers will be seeking compensation for the damage it caused.

Peter Jackson's Sydney-based law firm Jackson and Associates thinks there are more victims out there.

And the Bees Nest class action could be the first of many through NSW, as angry homeowners challenge countless decisions made by National Parks and the Rural Fire Service made through a season that left over 2000 homes destroyed, and dozens of lives lost, said the lawyer.

Governments tend to have a "good faith" legal protection which makes legal actions difficult except under exceptional circumstances. But they can be successful, or can lead to mediation, he said.

Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall last year called for an inquiry into fire management after complaints about the Bees Nest fire and said landholders felt there is a "lock it and leave it" approach to fire management in National Parks by the state government.

State and Federal governments have since announced a number of inquiries into the bushfire crisis.

"We're more than happy to talk to anyone that have been affected by the large number of fires that have occurred through NSW and particularly those fires that have occurred in the North."

A spokesperson for the Department said it would inappropriate to comment as it's a legal matter.