Australia — Seasonal firefighters will be on the ground earlier and in larger numbers this year as Victoria prepares for another torrid fire season.
Six months after the Black Saturday disaster that killed 173 people, Victorian Premier John Brumby has announced a recruitment drive for 700 Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) firefighters.
The intake is about 50 more than last year, with the first 80 to start next month, about four weeks earlier than in 2008.
They will join more than 2,700 permanent firefighters and about 60,000 Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteers.
“That recruitment will commence from next week and they will start work from September,” Mr Brumby told reporters on Friday.
“It’s a larger number than we have recruited in the past and they’re also starting work some weeks earlier than has been the case in the past.”
Mr Brumby was speaking at Tremont, a high fire risk community in the Dandenong Ranges on Melbourne’s eastern fringe.
The premier said high fire danger areas were at even higher risk this summer.
“That’s the reality,” he said.
“The combination of 13 years of dry weather and a dry June and July has meant that on all of the evidence, on all of the statistics we face potentially a worse fire season than last year, so all of these areas are at risk.”
Mr Brumby said all efforts were being made to prevent a repeat of Black Saturday.
He paid tribute to those still suffering from Australia’s worst bushfire disaster and the efforts of those who had assisted with the recovery.
“It’s six months since the terrible fires on February 7th and, although it’s true to say I think we’ve made great progress in terms of the physical recovery, this is still an extraordinarily difficult time and an extraordinarily difficult year for families who’ve lost loved ones and for families who’ve lost property.”
Meanwhile, the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) has raised concerns about the capacity of rural communities to provide volunteer firefighters in a submission lodged with the Senate Inquiry into Bushfires in Australia.
VFF President Andrew Broad said the issue of volunteer firefighter numbers was a long term challenge.
“There is no getting away from the fact that rural Australia is seeing a shrinking and ageing population,” Mr Broad said in a statement.
“The continuation of these trends will make it difficult for rural brigades to provide the crews that have been the backbone of the Country Fire Authority (CFA).”
Meanwhile, the federal government has extended its payments to victims of the Victorian bushfires for another three months.
The Income Recovery Subsidy, which provides fortnightly payments of $453.30 for singles and $409 each for couples, will be available until November 10.
Centrelink will contact existing recipients to determine if they are eligible, a statement from Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin and parliamentary secretary for Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction Bill Shorten said.
Since the fires, 3,026 properties have been cleared and more than $320 million has been allocated out of the $382 million bushfire appeal fund.
The Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority and the appeal fund will release their six monthly reports on Friday.