State faces severe bushfire season as big winter fuel build-up turns tinder-dry

State faces severe bushfire season as big winter fuel build-up turns tinder-dry

12 September 2008

published by www.thewest.com.au


Australia — WA is facing its longest and most severe bushfire season in years, after early winter rain followed by a dry finish caused a massive build-up of fuel in Perth’s Hills and South-West holiday spots.
 
The Fire and Emergency Services Authority has warned that each region could expect at least three major bushfires this summer and residents needed to start preparing.
 
FESA chief operations officer Craig Hynes said early winter rain had led to strong plant growth but little rain in August had caused the bush to start drying out early.
 
“If we don’t get much rain in September, we can expect above-normal fire activity . . . and the season could start at least a month early,” he said.
 
“We have had a couple of scrub fires in the past few days so the bush will burn now.”
 
FESA has committed almost $186 million for career staff, volunteers and local governments to prepare for and fight fires and other emergencies this season. Last year, fire fighters attended more than 6500 bushfires, with at least half of those deliberately lit or with investigators unable to determine their cause.
 
Three truck drivers were killed when a ferocious fire ripped through Boorabbin National Park on December 30.
 
Days later, residents were lucky to escape a blaze in the Hills that gutted and damaged homes. Det-Sen. Const. Aaron Capes, from the arson squad, said the Boorabbin blaze caused the biggest loss of life since two people were killed in a fire at Tenterden in 2003.
 
“We didn’t have a large amount of major fires last year but the ones we did have were devastating,” he said.
 
Len Forster, chairman of the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre, said Australia’s drying and warming climate would lead to more severe and frequent bushfires.
 
Mr Hynes agreed, saying WA had fire suppression aircraft on standby for 110 days each year — 20 more than in other States, and the season could extend into April in coming years.
 
Don Spriggins, an experienced former bushfire manager, identified the Hills and Dunsborough, Yallingup and Margaret River as bushfire black spots.
 
“They are residential areas surrounded by bush and the South-West towns are heavily populated, confined areas with limited access,” he said.
 
“If residents don’t control the fuel on the ground they are setting themselves up for a disaster.”
 
FESA has employed community fire managers at 13 high-risk local government areas — Denmark, Augusta-Margaret River, Murray, Busselton, Bridgetown, Esperance, Mundaring, Swan, Wanneroo, Cockburn, Kwinana, Dandaragan and Geraldton-Greenough.
 
But Mr Hynes said residents in other areas should not become complacent.


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