Australia — The upcoming fire season could start earlier and last longer, a top Victorian fire chief has warned.
Identified risk areas include the Otway Ranges, the Dandenong Ranges, the Brisbane Ranges and the Macedon Ranges.
Department of Sustainability and Environment chief officer Ewan Waller said firefighters would start burning off as soon as possible.
“The fire season may well start earlier, go longer, with lightning in between,” Mr Waller told reporters.
“We will have extra support from the government for spring burnoffs state-wide and there will be smoke in the air as soon as we can start bringing in people.”
He said as long as the state remained dry there was potential for loss of life.
“As long as we have these dry conditions we have a serious fire situation,” he said.
“All we need then is bad fire weather and fire lights like we had on Black Saturday – then we have a serious situation.”
He said there has been good rain along the coast and some in the ranges but the rim around Melbourne “is quite exposed”.
“Communities and heavy forest – the mix isn’t good,” Mr Waller said.
Steve Warrington, the acting chief officer with the Country Fire Authority (CFA), said there would be an improved communications system this summer.
The CFA’s communications came under criticism during the royal commission into Black Saturday last February, when 173 lives were lost and more than 2,000 properties destroyed.
“We have learned a lot from last season and we want to make sure those learnings are put into practice,” Mr Warrington said.
“The messaging probably will reflect more this year that there is an inherent risk if you stay with your home – the best place to be in a fire fight is not to be there at all.”
He said the Otways, Brisbane Ranges, the Dandenongs and Macedon Ranges would be a priority for the CFA this summer.
“There are large parcels of the state which have people living there and have critical state infrastructure there as well – so that will be a priority for us.”
Victorian Premier John Brumby said on Wednesday he could not guarantee there would be no repeat of the February 7 disaster.
Mr Brumby told reporters that efforts would be focused “100 per cent” on making the state fire-ready this summer.
“I can’t be clearer about the single objective that I believe we all have, as a state, as a community, and that’s to make our state fire-ready,” he said.
“We may be lucky, we may get a wet winter and a wet spring and we may have a relatively good fire season, but all of the advice at the moment is that this will be as bad, if not worse than anything that we’ve seen in the last decade.”
The opposition is urging the Victorian government to accept all recommendations from the bushfire royal commission.
It is also calling for greater coordination of the message the government is giving the public about how fires will be fought in the upcoming bushfire season.
A leaked Department of Sustainability and Environment report has warned fire conditions this summer could be even worse than the Black Saturday fires, in which 173 lives were lost and more than 2,000 properties destroyed.
Nationals leader Peter Ryan said leaked reports should not be the way the public was informed about the bushfire threat.
“I call on the premier to take control of this,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
“This is just another element of an ad hoc approach.
“My basic worry is that people are hearing a mixed message coming out of government as to how we are going to combat this threat.”
Mr Ryan said that recommendations of the interim report of the bushfires royal commission, due to be handed down on August 17, should be acted upon by the government.
“We have now had a body of evidence about these primary two issues – the stay or go policy and the question of communications,” he said.
“I believe it is incumbent on the government to accept whatever are the recommendations from the commission in this interim report and to act on them.”