THE region where most deaths occurred on Black Saturday did not have an experienced incident management team in place until after the deadly Kilmore East fire had begun.
The Bushfires Royal Commission was told yesterday that a lack of experienced staff in the north-east region, which includes the territory destroyed by the Kilmore East and Murrindindi blazes, meant that incident management teams were not ready for a "hot start" on Black Saturday.
Other failures detailed yesterday included jammed phone lines at the key Kilmore incident control centre, radio problems for crews, and a lack of information sharing between the Kilmore centre and regional command in Seymour.
The commission also heard from witnesses that smoke and flames were seen near power poles close to where the Kilmore East fire is believed to have begun.
Details of the cause of the Kilmore East fire will be examined this week, with numerous witnesses from Singapore-based power company SPAusnet expected to give evidence.
Yesterday the commission heard from Peter Creak, who on February 7 was area co-ordinator for the CFA's entire north-east region.
Mr Creak said that it was not until 12.05pm, 15 minutes after the Kilmore East fire had begun, that an incident controller was appointed to manage the blaze.
That controller, volunteer Kilmore brigade captain Greg Murphy, said in a statement to the commission that control of the fire was not officially handed over to the Kilmore Incident Control Centre until 1.05pm.
He then set about assembling a level three incident management team until he was relieved by a more experienced incident controller at 4.30pm.
The commission heard that Mr Murphy, who had not been officially "endorsed" as a level three incident controller, was appointed even though a more experienced level three incident controller was nearby.
Instead another level three incident controller, Stewart Kreltszheim, was sent from Mansfield, 140 kilometres away, but did not arrive in Kilmore until 4.30pm.
Mr Creak told the commission that although CFA chief Russell Rees had told operations managers in a teleconference earlier in the week to have level three incident management teams ready for February 7, it was an "unrealistic expectation" to staff all of his region's level three centres fully at the beginning of the day.
He said there was an "escalation plan" in place when needed.
"We do have a shortfall, and quite a significant shortfall, of qualified staff if you were to staff every level three incident control centre in north-east Victoria," he said. "We don't have the people."
By contrast, the commission has heard that an incident control centre in Bendigo was ready the morning of February 7 and had had a "dry run" of systems the day before.
Also yesterday, Graeme Armstrong, CFA operations manager of areas including Kinglake, Healesville and Yarra Glen, told the commission he had told his incident management teams to be ready by 7am on February 7.
The hearings continue.
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