Not every Volunteer Firefighter agrees with the decision to extend the fire season in many areas around the state. There are some areas where it is an ideal time to burn heaps and even larger areas of bushland. The soil moisture is up in some areas and all that is needed is a calm day for a good burn.
The hassle associated with getting a permit puts farmers and other land owners off. The RFS will say that it’s not a big deal, just get a permit. But the legislation around burning and the issuing of permits is not that easy.
The system is way too complicated and people have become frightened to use fire in case the local brigade rocks up.
There are only two reasons why a permit is actually required (Section 86 of the Rural Fires Act):
- for the purpose of land clearance or for burning any fire break, or
- in circumstances in which doing so would be likely to be dangerous to any building
Section 86 (1A) states that a person who lights a fire on land for the purpose of land clearance or for burning any fire break is guilty of an offence unless a bush fire hazard reduction certificate has been issued in respect of the land clearance or fire break.
It is interesting to note that, regardless of the issued permit, Section 98 of the Rural Fires Act clearly places a responsibility on the land owner or occupier to prevent an uncontrolled fire or bushfire.
The current permit system is placing more pressure upon our volunteers to issue permits and is discouraging people to use fire for land management.
Farmers were once trusted to manage their own places. We are now seeing fuel loads growing because fewer people are burning.
One positive that comes from the permit system is the knowledge that fires are logged by the Fire Control Centre. There is nothing wrong with that.
Perhaps it is time to review the legislation and simplify the system in a way that builds upon Section 98 of the Rural Fires Act with a notification only process. The intent of the land owner or occupier is logged, some questions are asked and their responsibility to control their fire is confirmed.
What are your thoughts? Feel free to make a comment below.
Fire season extended as conditions remain ‘extraordinarily dry’ in parts of NSW
By Peter Hannam –March 31, 2019
Fire restrictions will be extended at least to the end of April in many parts of NSW as the ongoing drought continues to elevate bushfire risks, the Rural Fire Service said.
The one-month extensions cover most of northern NSW, such as the Far North Coast and Northern Tablelands, but also the Hunter Valley, the Southern Tablelands and the Riverina Highlands.
“Most of the state remains extraordinarily dry,” said Ben Shepherd, a senior RFS spokesman, adding the prolonged fire season comes even after the state “had such a dramatic start to the fire season.”
Dust storms continue to feature across large swathes of the state – including on Friday – underscoring the severity of the prolonged dry spell.
For 10 regions, such as Lismore and Tenterfield, this year’s fire season will last at least nine months as those areas all began their period of fire restrictions a month early last August.
The curbs require private landholders to gain a permit from the RFS or Fire & Rescue before burning off.
Areas around Sydney have benefited from bursts of rain, especially from thunderstorms, effectively dousing the risk of major fires this season.
The city’s rains on Saturday will push the rainfall total for March to about 230 millimetres, almost double the long-run average for the month of about 130 millimetres, and the most for any month since March 2017.
A chart of the so-called Keetch-Byram drought index, though, shows most of the state still has a soil moisture deficit, a proxy used by fire authorities to assess vulnerabilities to wildfires.
Aside from this weekend’s rains, the outlook for April-June is for near-average rainfall for NSW – except for a coastal band around Sydney, the Bureau of Meteorology said this week. But odds favour a warmer-than-average period for the almost all of the country, including NSW.
The extended fire season comes after crews battled some 10,525 bush, grass and scrub fires from July 1 last year up to Friday, covering about 323,000 hectares.
In numbers of blazes alone, the busiest month was last August, with 2314 fires across the state.
For all of the 2017-18 fiscal year, the RFS reported 15,641 fires.
The long fire season has also extended to other states, with Victorian crews battling fires on Friday.
NSW has helped out other states – and been aided too – with RFS deploying a total of 682 members to Tasmania to help fight blazes that burnt out more than 200,000 hectares across the island state.
The Tasmanian work lasted about 11 weeks up to last Monday and was “the most sustained support given to another state since the tragic Black Saturday Victorian bush fires of 2009”, said RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.
“I acknowledge the exceptional commitment of the 221 volunteer NSW RFS firefighters who have worked in some of the most difficult and rugged terrain in the country.”
Fire crews will get little respite, as authorities prepare to accelerate hazard-reduction burns in NSW as soon as conditions allow.
“We’re going to try to play catch-up ahead of the next fire season,” Inspector Shepherd said.
In regard to the extension of the fire season, this year I fully agree with it, for our area at least. We live in the Tamworth fire district and it is incredibly dry at the moment in the area where we live. We had 64 mm of rain in early April but in the forested areas of our property it never made any further than the leaves on top of the forest floor. I doesn’t matter how deep a hole you dig you will not find any moisture anywhere.
I have been doing pile burns in the forested area of my property on and off for the last couple of months during the night. The biggest problem I have had is with stuff catching fire under the ground, not on top. This is not normally an issue due to a least having some moisture within the soil but at the moment there is absolutely nothing. I am a permit officer for our area but I cannot issue a permit to myself so I have to track down my neighbour who is our other permit officer to catch him at home. Yes it is a pain but with a little planning we usually catch up and I get a permit. I’d rather have people get a permit than get a call out or someone ring me up to because they can see smoke, only to get all my gear on, get in the truck drive 20km to find it’s someone burning a few sticks. I’ve been there and done that a few times and it really pisses me off.
I can see why the permit system may turn some people burning because they have to get a permit. But with a little forward planning it’s not that hard. A permit can last up to 21 days so if you think you might need one soon, then think ahead and get one. As I mentioned earlier I am a permit officer and both myself and my fellow permit officer actively encourage our local community members to get permits and burn what they can when they can. Another reason why people don’t burn is because they are to bloody scared to. As a result we also offer advise as well as our physical assistance in the hope that it will make our job easier in the up coming fire season. Having said that, I’m all for any change in legislation that encourages people to burn responsibly and more often.
I have not applied for a permit to burn in NSW but I understand that it is unworkable, primarily through compliance with environmental laws. What we need is for an arrangement, as is apparently available in QLD and SA, whereby the government indemnifies a landholder for an escape and damage if the landholder complies with the conditions of the permit. I don’t know how well this works in these States.
However this would require support from the RFS and their risk averse nature make it (I think) unlikely to succeed even though if the permit giver is diligent and not negligent in issuing the permit he would also be indemnified.
I don’t know how much this depends on the local FCO.
On the fire behaviour side there are two points that I think are misunderstood:
1). The ketch Byram drought index is not particularly useful if the same system is used State wide because different soil types and vegetation have very different drying regimes to the one generally assumed for dry forest. It is most effective if it is maintained and calibrated locally. This requires going over several years to correlate local fire activity with the index. This assumes that the state issued index uses the temperature and rainfall data specific to that locality.
2). Burning under high drought conditions provides very efficient burning and is the only time that efficient burning can be conducted on some southerly and eastern aspects. However one cannot rely on natural barriers like creek lines and may require more diligent mop-up and patrol (I hope there are not new concepts for the RFS) than is usual.
3). If people do not know what they are doing they can get themselves into trouble in the middle of winter as evident in the Ku-ring-gai National Park fire deaths in 2000.