The aftermath of the Margaret River fires. Picture: Sharon Smith
The aftermath of the Margaret River fires. Picture: Sharon Smith

Firefighters and managers were at "breaking point" months before the Margaret River bushfires, a leaked Department of Environment and Conservation internal report has revealed.

_The West Australian _has obtained a September 2011 independent report that found the department's fire management team was so overworked it was at risk of making mistakes.

Environment Minister Bill Marmion has since conceded the DEC was responsible for the prescribed burns in Margaret River that escaped and razed at least 32 homes on November 23 and 24.

But Mr Marmion has denied Opposition claims DEC firefighter numbers have been slashed from 299 to 250 over the past five years - and said yesterday numbers would be boosted to 286.

The report by organisational psychologist Lynda Folan, of Integral Development, was presented to the DEC last September and found firefighters and their managers were under a dangerous level of strain.

"The department is at breaking point in relation to workload and roster demands," she said. Ms Folan argued for more pay for DEC workers and more staff to ease the workload. The report, commissioned in the aftermath of the fatal 2007 Boorabbin bushfire, warned that overwork could result in errors because of physical and mental exhaustion.

Former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty found in February in an inquiry into the Margaret River fires "omissions and mistakes" in the DEC's management and implementation of the burning program.

A DEC spokeswoman said yesterday the final Integral Development report was completed only in February this year - after the Margaret River fires - but confirmed it had received a draft in September.

Shadow emergency services minister Margaret Quirk said the report was further proof that firefighter numbers should be boosted to the previous level of 299.

"It shows things are very serious . . . and while we can't control the elements, and fires obviously have an impact in an unpredictable way, they can control staffing levels and this is where the rubber hits the road," she said.

"There has been significant firefighter number reduction by this Government."

Mr Marmion has disputed Ms Quirk's claim there were previously 299 firefighters available.

The West Australian

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