Sydney, New South Wales, Australia — Recent heavy rain and predicted soaring temperatures point to a long and difficult bush fire season, the commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service says.
Commissioner Phil Koperberg said today that this week’s unseasonably warm weather added to the risk.
“I don’t think it is anything we’re not going to be able to handle, but it will be a challenge,” Mr Koperberg told smh.com.au.
“I don’t expect the fire season to kick off for another three weeks, but when it does, it will start, I think, with a bang.”
The biggest concern was for the state’s coastal areas, where bushfire fuel had built up in the years since the destructive 2002-03 season.
There was also a high danger in the state’s Central West, around Dubbo, Orange, Wellington and Narrandera, he said.
Plans for hazard reduction burns along the coast had been thwarted by recent heavy rainfall, leaving many areas vulnerable.
Mr Koperberg said the fire service would be lucky to achieve 50 per cent of the hazard reduction targets along the coast. Further burns were unlikely if this week’s hot, dry conditions continued.
However, the commissioner downplayed the overall significance of the unfinished burns, saying even if they had all been completed, the fire risk would only be reduced by about 5 to 10 per cent.
“You can’t burn all of NSW … we’re just going to have to be very, very vigilant in areas where we don’t get it done,” he said.
The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast a hotter than average spring. Predicted hot, dry and windy weather led to the first total fire bans of the bushfire season, which started in the south-west of the state today.
“I expect that as the weather warms up further to the north, we will see the imposition of more total fire bans throughout the week,” he said.
Parts of Sydney have already topped 30 degrees today and the forecast is for hot and windy weather to continue until the weekend.
Mr Koperberg said dry conditions in much of the state had left the Rural Fire Service with fewer options for fighting fires using water collected from dams on private properties.
“We don’t have the luxury now of just dipping into someone’s farm and just filling up a helicopter,” he said.
A survey of water options was considering alternative water storage options, including train carriages and portable rubber dams, which could hold up to 10,000 litres of water.
The survey results were expected within a month, the commissioner said.
Mr Koperberg advised residents living near bushland to prepare their homes for the season by removing leaves and rubbish near roofs, gutters, decks and balconies.
Firefighters backed by water bombing aircraft are battling to contain a blaze which is likely to threaten farms in Victoria’s remote Mallee country late today.
The fire, which began as a fuel reduction burn, has ripped through about 3000 hectares of Mallee scrub in the Murray-Sunset National Park at Berrook East, north of Murrayville, 510 kilometres north-west of Melbourne.
Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) state duty officer Graeme Davis said today the blaze was likely to affect privately owned wheat farms later today.
“The fire is likely to spread because we are expecting extreme fire weather before a change later today,” Mr Davis said.
“We’ll have a very strong northerly wind and relatively low humidity, certainly for this time of year.
“The westerly change will be blustery. We’ve had some fuel reduction burns in the area so we are trying to manage the fire into those areas.”
Three fire-bombing aircraft and two helicopters will support 65 DSE firefighters on the ground, Mr Davis said.
“There’s no private property under threat at this stage, but it is likely the fire will possibly spot on to private property later in the day.
“It’s wheat country and it’s all green crops at this stage, so it’s unlikely to cause significant damage. There are no towns or settlements in the area, it’s all broad-acre farms.”