ENGIE stokes fire fears

ENGIE has been criticised for its lack of detail over fire preparendess for the Hazelwood mine. file photograph

ENGIE has been criticised for its lack of detail over fire preparendess for the Hazelwood mine. file photograph

Community advocates have launched a scathing attack on Hazelwood owner ENGIE after it failed to outline its fire preparedness plan ahead of what the CFA predicts will be one of worst fire seasons in a decade.

Last week the CFA warned Gippsland's fire season could be brought forward to as early as September, and given the low rainfall and dry conditions, south-eastern Victoria could be in for one of its harshest summers in 10 years.

But despite the CFA's warning, ENGIE has failed to respond to questions about its fire protection protocols and plans in place in the event of a fire which has drawn outrage community members far and wide.

The company is also yet to confirm whether it will comply with an Earth Resources Regulation ruling to redeploy fire protection staff in its mine by September 1 after pulling employees off the site in June.

Morwell and District Community Recovery Committee chair Carolyne Boothman slammed ENGIE over its lack of communication with the community and said Morwell was "very concerned" about the lack of "forthcoming information and fire monitoring in the mine".

"It's essential and not negotiable given their history to ensure ongoing monitoring and fire protection. The community do not have trust in ENGIE in their capacity to manage or respond to an event such as a fire," Ms Boothman said.

"We want them to ensure there is ongoing monitoring and that includes thermal imaging and staff available at all times. Currently our concerns aren't being heard."

The recovery committee was formed in the wake of the 2014 mine fire and is made up of representatives from Latrobe City Council, Advance Morwell and a number of community organisations and schools.

"The biggest problem for Morwell is that we're surrounded by plantations, two coal mines and on the day of the actual 2014 fire, we were gridlocked," Mr Boothman said.

"I'm very concerned about the weather and how dry it is ... it reminds me of conditions in the lead up to Black Saturday."

The company met with the Earth Resources Regulation, CFA, WorkSafe and EPA last week to discuss appropriate fire management staffing levels in the mine during what ENGIE described as a "constructive discussion".

In a statement, an ENGIE in Australia spokeswoman said the community should be "confident of our fire preparedness measures" and that it could "be reassured that no fire protection equipment has been removed from the mine".

"ENGIE may have left the equipment in the mine but there are no staff there to use it and to protect the mine," Voices of the Valley president Wendy Farmer said.

"It means the equipment is useless if there is nobody there to use it straight away."

CFMEU mining and energy division state secretary Geoff Dyke agreed and said ENGIE was "shirking its responsibility to manage the risk of fire and putting it onto the CFA".

"Given that it didn't have much fire equipment when it the Morwell fire started in 2014, how much has been added since?" Mr Dyke said.

"At that stage they had a full workforce to respond ... but now as far as I know the only workers in the mine are on day shift so there's no one there at night.

"They've got two fire trucks on-site which carry 3000 litres of water but if a fire truck goes down the mine to respond to a fire, it's going to run out in less than 20 minutes. Unless you've got a full crew ... your response will be pretty short-lived."

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