THE Defence boss has apologised over the massive State Mine Fire that has destroyed three homes and burned through nearly 50,000 hectares of land west of Sydney.
The bushfire continued to rage at emergency level between Lithgow and the Blue Mountains on Thursday, more than a week after it was sparked during explosives training on army land.
Acting Chief of Defence, Air Marshall Mark Binskin, says a small fire that started during a routine training exercise at Marrangaroo on October 16 was responsible for the blaze.
“I do apologise, because it has been identified that this fire was the start of this mine fire,” he told reporters at Rural Fire Service headquarters in Sydney on Thursday.
“We’ll ascertain the facts as part of our own inquiry but what I do know to date is it was an explosives activity, it was a demolition activity in support of our people that train for operations around the world.”
A NSW Police investigation was still underway, he said.
He said the decision to go ahead with the training exercise was made on a day of light winds and 23 degree-temperatures.
“The fire (danger) was on the lower end of the scale and there was not a fire ban,” he said.
Defence personnel acted quickly after an explosion started a small fire after midday on October 16 but were hampered by the live ordnance around them.
RFS crews arrived within half an hour, Air Marshall Binskin said.
“It was considered too dangerous to go onto the particular site where the fire had started to burn, so they waited till it cleared that area and then started to fight it,” he told reporters.
“This was not deliberately starting a fire, this was an accident as part of a training activity on a day there wasn’t a fire ban.”
He said Defence was “not shying from our responsibilities” but stopped short of offering compensation to those affected by the bushfire.
Air Marshall Binskin said the force’s in-house investigation into this incident could prompt changes to training procedures around Australia.