RFS Member Charged With Intentionally Setting Fires

Nova FM reported that a volunteer member of the NSW Rural Fire Service has been charged after allegedly deliberately lighting grass fires in the state’s south west.

The discovery was made as part of Strike Force Rummery, a force created to investigate more than 30 suspicious fires in Whitton, approximately 40km south of Griffith, NSW.

Following extensive inquiries, a 30-year-old man was arrested at a home in Whitton just after 11am on Friday. 

According to NSW Police, a search warrant was executed at the home and he was taken to Griffith Police Station and charged with five counts of intentionally causing fire and being reckless as to its spread.

It’s alleged the man, who is a serving member of the NSW Rural Fire Service, deliberately lit more than 30 separate spot fires in the Whitton area between November 2020 and January 2021.

He was refused bail to appear at Wagga Wagga Bail Court on Saturday where he was remanded in custody to appear at Wagga Wagga Local Court on Wednesday.

Total Fire Ban across Campaspe and Murray councils

The Riverina Herald reported that a Total Fire Ban (TFB) has been declared for Victoria’s Northern Country fire district, which includes Campaspe Shire, as well as NSW’s Southern Riverina, which includes Murray River Council.

Conditions across the regions will be very hot and dry, with temperatures forecast to reach 41C in Echuca.

The combination of heat and strong winds will considerably increase the fire risk, resulting in a Fire Danger Rating of severe for the region.

CFA chief officer Jason Heffernan said the weather conditions meant an elevated fire risk across large parts of the state.

CO Heffernan said there were particular concerns around the number of campers enjoying the holiday period across regional Victoria and he urged everyone to take great care and not light any campfires.

A Total Fire Ban means no fire can be lit in the open air or allowed to remain alight from 12.01am to 11.59pm on the day of the Total Fire Ban.

Strict rules also apply to the operation of farm machinery, chainsaws and lawn mowers.

Bushfire.io founder Tristan Morris nominated for Australia Day award

Nominee for the Australian of the Year Award 2021 Tristan Morris built the Bushfire.io app which maps where fire hotspots are. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Nominee for the Australian of the Year Award 2021 Tristan Morris built the Bushfire.io app which maps where fire hotspots are. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The Western Advocate repoted that Tristan Morris hasn’t had a lot of time off this summer. Although the bushfire season has been subdued on the east coast, fires raging in Western Australia have kept him busy, ensuring the bushfire app he created in the hope of saving lives is keeping up.

Mr Morris founded Bushfire.io last year, in the hopes the ability to pool together data to map and predict fire hotspots could help frontline workers, and save lives.

The idea came to him last summer while on the South Coast at Ulladulla. He’d planned to head further south but found out a fire on the highway had blocked the road.

The Fires Near Me app didn’t give any advice to evacuate or which way the fire might head.

Three days later, he’d built a platform which combined data from the NSW and Victorian fire apps with traffic and weather data.

Bushfire.io ran off a $30 Raspberry Pi – a credit card-sized computer designed to teach basic computer science in schools and developing countries. Within a month, the platform had 120,000 unique users.

It was also used in the National Crisis Coordination Centre.

The creation has landed Mr Morris among the 5500 Australians nominated for an Australian of the Year Award. A “humbling” but “weird” experience, Mr Morris said.

Mr Morris has degrees in computer science, software engineering and psychology, and has worked for 18 years in high-performance computing, data science and artificial intelligence.

He hoped the platform could save lives, but from the start was conscious about what could happen if something went wrong. “We’re effectively using government information and putting it out there in a different form,” he said.

If something went wrong with the app, the worst could have happened and it could cost lives not save them, Mr Morris said.

“So if people don’t interpret the information correctly or equipment failed and the site is not available or … warnings that should have gone out at 9 o’clock in the morning go out at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.”

From the outset, however, it was found to be incredibly useful, especially for those on the fireground. NSW Rural Fire Service volunteer Mark Carroll first saw the app while on the firefront. A long-term colleague of Mr Morris’, he came to him with much-needed feedback – how to make this work best for the first responders who needed it.

One of the first aspects of the website was a feedback form, which Mr Morris saw as a “safety switch” to ensure the platform was working how users needed it to.

“If people are using this and starting to use it for critical things or they’re noticing issues, hopefully that’s a way for someone to say ‘can you please stop doing this’ or ‘this is broken’,” he said. “That feedback ended up with hundreds of people saying this is amazing, thank you so much for putting it together.”

Twelve months on, Mr Morris is deciding what he wants the future of his app to be. He hopes to expand its capability beyond bushfires, to provide accurate data for storms, floods and cyclones.

“My car was written off at the start of the year in the hailstorm, I want to know if there’s a storm coming for my car … and I kind of assume there’s other people that will want that kind of information as well,” he said.

“Feels like a lot can be gained from it but at the same time it’s a pretty new area that has been very much left to the government.

“Over the past 12 months we’ve been collecting the data and almost getting ready for it.”

International expansion is also on the cards, with Mr Morris looking at the possibility of providing services in the United States, Canada and possibly beyond.

RFS firefighter Jack Kelly recognised for ‘daunting’ first season on firefront in Australia Day Awards

Seventeen-year-old NSW Rural Fire Service volunteer Jack Kelly was nominated for the Australian of the Year awards for his firefighting efforts during the 2019-2020 bushfire season. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The Northern Daily Leader reported that Seventeen-year-old NSW Rural Fire Service volunteer Jack Kelly was nominated for the Australian of the Year awards for his firefighting efforts during the 2019-2020 bushfire season. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Jack Kelly has had a quiet summer. It’s a nice change after battling to save his own home and many more in his community from the Black Range fire last school holidays.

The 16-year-old attended his first fire just weeks before that horror blaze. It was the experience he needed to be somewhat prepared for the hellish season he was about to endure.

At 14, Jack followed his dad in joining the Mulloon brigade nearby their property north of Braidwood.

He couldn’t take-on the frontline until he turned 16, and had a baptism of fire as the Black Range fire crept to his own back door while he fought to save other’s homes.

He was among 5500 people nominated for an Australian of the Year Award in 2021 as a result of his life-saving efforts.

“It was pretty daunting at the time, having a fire so close to home,” he said.

“We were at the properties with immediate threat but all you want to do is defend your property, but you just have to not worry about it and just worry about what you have to do.

“The nerves definitely kicked in when it was close to my property, but I had people in my truck that had houses in the same street, so they were keeping calm which helped my stay calm.”

From that first day, Jack spent almost every day of his school holidays on the fireground.

“We had the Black Range one which was in our area, then we went up to Tallaganda in the Clyde area,” he said.

“We were pretty much everywhere.”

A record number of people were nominated for the Australia Day awards in 2021, with 130 finalists selected across the states and territories from 5500 nominees.

Jack is honoured to be among the everyday heroes recognised this year, but says his work is “just something I enjoy”.

There are plenty more young people who deserve the recognition for their work on the fire ground, he said.

More have signed up in the aftermath of that horror season as well. Among them, two of Jack’s friends.

“I like to think thanks to my influence,” he said.

The small Mulloon brigade has ballooned too, from 15 members to more than 30. Jack said that will be instrumental in making their job easier next season.

“[Last summer] had people in our brigade doing week-long shifts pretty much, every day doing 12-hour shifts because we didn’t have enough people to rotate,” he said.

As he enters year 12, Jack is focused on getting through his final school year before taking on a trade in 2022, but whether it’s a rural or city brigade he plans to remain a firefighter as long as he can.

Gunning district vehicle rollover injures four occupants

Gunning/Fish River RFS Brigade members were quickly on the scene of a vehicle rollover on the Hume Highway near Gunning on Saturday afternoon. Photo: Gunning/Fish River RFS.

The Goulburn Post reported that  Gunning/Fish River RFS Brigade members were quickly on the scene of a vehicle rollover on the Hume Highway near Gunning on Saturday afternoon. Photo: Gunning/Fish River RFS.

Four people were taken to Canberra Hospital following a single-vehicle crash on the Hume Highway near Gunning on Saturday afternoon.

Emergency services were called at 3.15pm to reports a southbound car had rolled off the highway near the Collector Road off-ramp, just north of Gunning.

RFS spokesman Ben Shepherd told The Post all the occupants were out of the car and were treated by ambulance.

A NSW Ambulance spokeswoman confirmed three males and a female were treated for minor to serious injuries. They included a suspected shoulder injury, pain, abrasions and headaches.

All were taken to Canberra Hospital by road ambulance for further treatment.

The vehicle was extensively damaged in the crash. RFS provided fire protection at the scene.

One southbound lane was closed for a short time but reopened shortly after 5pm. Mr Shepherd said a tow truck arrived at 5.15pm.

Police are investigating the circumstances of the crash.

The crash occurred on the Hume Highway near Gunning, close to the Collector Road off-ramp. Image: Live Traffic NSW.

 The crash occurred on the Hume Highway near Gunning, close to the Collector Road off-ramp. Image: Live Traffic NSW.

40 firefighters, three choppers battle fire near Tumut

Fire broke out west of Tumut this afternoon and is believed to have started at a private landfill at Gilmore. Photo: Kellie Stanfield.
There are three helicopters waterbombing. Photo: Kellie Stanfield

The Tumut and Adelong Times reported that ocal fire authorities say they’ve “thrown everything we have” at a fire near Tumut and are confident of containing the blaze.

About five to 10 hectares of private land, Tumut State Forest and the Wereboldera Conservation Area (National Park) has been burnt after a blaze broke out a few kilometres west of Tumut this afternoon.

Three water-bombing helicopters and three dozers have joined firefighters from Forestry NSW, National Parks, Hume Forests and some 10 RFS brigades, with about 40 personnel on the ground.

Riverina Highlands Rural Fire Service’s Peter Jones said authorities were “reasonably comfortable” with the present situation.

“As of right now, we’ve contained the northern and eastern edge of the fire,” Mr Jones said. “Temperatures are obviously high, but there’s no wind to speak of.

“There’s still mopping up to do, but as of now there’s no threat to the township of Tumut.”

The cause of the fire is still to be determined, but authorities believe it may have been a case of spontaneous combustion at a private landfill at Gilmore, with the fire then going on a run into bushland in steep terrain.

Update, Sunday January 24: The RFS has confirmed the fire was contained overnight.

Significant resources have been allocated to the fire.
The view from the Snowy Mountains Highway, from near the AKD Gilmore mill. Photo: Kellie Stanfield.

RFS warns of fire risk after slasher causes blaze near Reids Flat Rd

The Cowra Guardian reported that following a fire near Reids Flat Road on Wednesday afternoon, Canobolas Zone RFS is urging residents to stay safe and alert with heatwave like conditions predicted for the weekend.

Local RFS brigades received a Triple Zero call around 4.50pm on Wednesday, with reports of a fire on a property on Reids Flat Road, approximately nine kilometres south east of Cowra.

NSW RFS Canobolas Zone operations officer, Brett Bowden said tankers from the Neila, Waugoola, Wattamondara and Kangaroo Flat brigades attended the scene.

“The fire only burned around three hectares of grass and it was started by a slasher,” Mr Bowden said.

“It was operating in a paddock and the slasher got caught up in a little bit of wire, once it hit that, it caused a spark and that spark started a fire and away it went.”

Mr Bowden said crews were able to control the blaze relatively quickly.

“Only about 40 minutes or so and they marked it as contained,” he said.

“Then by about 8pm just about all the units had departed the site, it was a fairly quick job.”

However, Mr Bowden said the blaze was an example of how quickly fires can start in current conditions.

“Particularly when the fuel, the grasslands, is getting so dry,” he said.

“The danger we’ve got at the moment, we’ve got the most amount of grass in paddocks and across the landscape that we’ve seen for probably 10 or 15 years… where it ignites relatively easily and the intensity from any fire then is quite high and in the right sort of conditions, they will be difficult to control.”

With temperatures set to reach the early 40s over the weekend and into next week, Mr Bowden said any fires could be difficult to control.

“Relative humidity is probably getting down towards the teens, maybe even getting close to single digits in the middle of the day and mid-afternoon and with those sorts of conditions, fires will start very easily,” he said.

“We’re hoping that the wind doesn’t also increase too much, because then we’ve got the holy trilogy being high temperatures, low humidity and high winds.

“It’s probably the first consecutive days of heatwave activity that we’ve seen this summer and we are somewhat concerned about fires starting and then being difficult to control.”

With the Australia Day public holiday, Mr Bowden is urging residents to be mindful of any outdoor activities.

“There will be a number of people who turn this into a long weekend and people out on properties or out about in camping areas doing summer activities, we just need to make sure people are mindful of the things they do,” he said.

“Power tools and hot tools like angle grinders and welders, the use of vehicles in long grass paddocks, whether it’s slashing any remnant harvesting operations or motorcycles, any vehicle that’s in a long grass paddock should have a fire extinguisher on board and people should be mindful of where they stop in long grass.

“The ability to start fires now is very easy and with the amount of grasslands fuel around, the body of fuel that we’ve got, they can create some quite intense fires quite quickly.”

Mr Bowden encouraged residents to report any fires by ringing Triple Zero (000) immediately.

You can also download the NSW RFS Fires Near Me app to track any fire activity in the region.

“We’ve been getting fires every day across the Central West and most fires are started by human activity at the moment,” he said.

“Report it immediately on Triple Zero, don’t waste time. The quicker that we can get fire fighting resources to the fire, the quicker we can contain it and limit the damage.”

Defence images taken from helicopter show start of the Orroral Valley bushfire in Namadgi National Park

Michael Inman reported in the ABC:

An aerial photograph of a spreading patch of fire in bushland, with masses of smoke rising from the fire.
A photograph taken from the Defence helicopter that began the Orroral Valley fire, just moments after it was accidentally set.(Supplied: Department Of Defence)

Defence force personnel onboard a helicopter that started a massive bushfire in the ACT last summer took photos of the blaze as they flew away from the scene, but did not report its precise location to authorities until 45 minutes later.

Key points:

  • A series of photographs show the moment the Orroral Valley bushfire began in the Namadgi National Park
  • The pictures were taken by Defence personnel onboard the helicopter which accidentally ignited the flames
  • Defence says the crew did not call in the fire immediately because their priority was their safety

The photos, released by Defence in response to questions from the ABC, show how small the fire was seconds after it was accidentally ignited by the helicopter’s landing light when it set down in the Namadgi National Park.

The emergence of the photos has led to more questions about whether the fire could have been controlled at that stage, before it went on to burn through more than one-third of the ACT’s footprint and destroy homes across the border in New South Wales.

Personnel aboard an MRH-90 Taipan helicopter snapped the photographs as they left the area, but did not report the fire’s location to ACT emergency services until they landed at Canberra Airport, 45 minutes later.

By the time ACT fire authorities pinpointed the fire’s location, the flames had swept into woodland and become an inferno.

An aerial photograph from within a helicopter shows a patch of fire spreading through bushland
Defence personnel have been criticised for the delay in communicating details of the fire to emergency workers.(Supplied: Department Of Defence)

Justin Bayliss, whose property in Bumbalong, NSW was burnt out by the blaze, said it was confusing why personnel aboard the helicopter had time to take pictures, but not to call in the location of the fire emergency.

“Surely somebody would have a phone who could just ring triple-0 and go, ‘This has happened and this is going on, we can’t do anything because the helicopter’s damaged and we’re going to Fairbairn, but you really need to get some resources out here onto this’?” he said.

“The fact that nobody could do that, I just find it’s just terrible.”

Pictures show blaze, damage to aircraft

An aerial photograph from within a helicopter shows a patch of fire spreading through bushland.
The Army helicopter had set down for a break in the Orroral Valley when heat from its landing light ignited the dry grass.(Supplied: Department Of Defence)

The Defence Force had been called in to help the ACT Emergency Services Agency defend the national capital as part of Operation Bushfire Assist during the Black Summer bushfires.

The Army helicopter was on a reconnaissance mission to identify landing zones that could be used to insert and extract remote area firefighting teams when it set down for a break in the Orroral Valley, in the ACT’s south, about 1:30pm on January 27.

But heat from the aircraft’s landing light ignited the dry grass of the landing site.

According to Defence documents, the crew spotted the fire seconds after landing and the helicopter took off, with the downdraught from its rotors further fanning the flames.

Damage to the underside of Defence chopper caused by fire it accidentally started with a landing light.
The fire damaged the underside of the Defence helicopter.(Supplied: Department Of Defence)

Pictures, supplied by Defence, show the flames damaged the aircraft, and it returned to Canberra Airport — calling in a PAN-PAN emergency on the way as a result of the damage.

The helicopter landed safely at Fairbairn at 2:15pm — 45 minutes after the blaze had started — and handed over the location data to ACT emergency services once on the ground.

By the time ACT fire authorities located the fire, it had swept into woodland and become an inferno.

The Orroral Valley bushfire went on to scorch 80 per cent of Namadgi National Park, causing an environmental disaster.

The front of a helicopter that was melted by fire.
Defence said “addressing potentially catastrophic risks to crew and aircraft was the focus of the crew’s radio traffic during the flight to safety”.(Supplied: Department Of Defence)

Defence said helicopter had ‘no means of external communication’

Defence told the ABC the crew did not call in the fire as their primary focus was their safety.

“Passengers do not have means of external communication to air traffic control or civil emergency services while aboard an aircraft,” a Defence statement said.

“Only the aircrew are on external radio nets while in flight.

“Addressing potentially catastrophic risks to crew and aircraft was the focus of the crew’s radio traffic during the flight to safety.”

Play Video. Duration: 2 minutes 11 seconds
Radio calls show how fire crews struggled to locate the fire without Defence’s help.

But Mr Bayliss, who has a decade’s experience as a rural firefighter, said the explanation did not make sense, and the 45-minute delay meant the fire was able to get out of control.

“[The picture shows that it’s] certainly not a large fire at that point,” Mr Bayliss said.

“I look at that, and with having been in the RFS, you kind of go, that’s in open country, if you got onto that, reasonably quickly, with a bit of aerial support, they probably would have been able to pull that in.

“If there’s a grass fire, if they get into it in an hour, they’ll generally get her under control, [but] if it goes longer than that, and they’re not aware of it, then you’re really battling on the back foot.

“But obviously, if you just look at the way that it’s that it’s running, to not tell anybody about it for the best part of an hour, by the time that they’ve notified people it’s heading up into the [woodland] in the valley.”

Speaking at a press conference today, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he believed the only benefit of reporting on the newly released images was to provide fodder for newspapers and fill “dead air in January”.

“I still haven’t seen [the images] — I haven’t had time to have a look. It’s not my number one priority,” Mr Barr said.

“As I’ve said on ABC Radio, I’m not interested in a witch hunt or a blame game here, and I don’t think … it’s not going to undo the fire.

“The only value in all of this … is whether there are any lessons that can be learnt around the operation of that sort of equipment in a bushfire scenario.

“Yes it was regrettable that it occurred, it was regrettable that they didn’t call it in earlier — what are we seeking to achieve in a witch hunt? Absolutely nothing.

“We are not going to do ourselves any services by having this endless, circular blame game.”

A man sits in his living room, holding a photo of a bushfire taken from a helicopter.
Bumbalong property owner Justin Bayliss with a photo of the blaze that would eventually burn down his home.(ABC News: Ben Harris)

Reporting delay caused by multiple issues

Former ACT Emergency Services Commissioner Peter Dunn — a retired major general who was tasked with reforming emergency services in the ACT after the 2003 bushfires — said the delay may have been caused by a combination of ignorance and communication issues.

He said people thought grassfires were benign, but they were actually fast moving and deadly, and it was time to abandon the old attitudes of watching a fire to see what happened before acting.

A man faces a burnt out shipping container sitting on a plot of rural land.
Mr Bayless’s property in Bumbalong was burnt in the Orroral Valley fire.(ABC News: Michael Inman)

“What we’ve got to say is, ‘there has been an ignition, and we will now attack it instantly,'” Mr Dunn said.

“Occasionally we will overreact and [some] pundits would say, ‘Oh, gosh, that’s a waste of resources’. Well, I’m sorry, because the reality is that we have to make sure we knock these fires out because with drought conditions preceding last year’s bushfires, and existing again, in many areas of Australia today … we have to get it in our mind that we cannot tolerate fire in the landscape.”

Mr Dunn also said, with a changing climate, the military would increasingly be called in to help fight natural disasters so communication protocols with emergency services needed to be fixed.

“We are not good at communicating right down to community level or to agency level,” he said.

Flames with heavy smoke spread across hilly terrain.
By the time the first hour had passed, the fire had doubled in size.(ABC: Greg Nelson)

NSW Rural Fire Services sends warning after lightning strike causes fire near Back Yamma State Forest

From the Forbes Advocate:

WORD OF WARNING: NSW RFS reiterated words of warning after lightning caused a grass fire near Back Yamma State Forest. Photo: FILE

NSW RFS reiterated words of warning after lightning caused a grass fire near Back Yamma State Forest. Photo: FILE

A grass fire near Back Yamma State Forest, east of Forbes, on Thursday night serves as a timely reminder for caution ahead of the soaring, forecast temperatures across the Central West region this weekend.

NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) crews were called to the blaze along Troubalgie Road just around midnight on Thursday, with local brigades from Vychan, Back Yamma and Forbes helping contain the burn to approximately 24 hectares.

A lightning strike has been determined as the cause of the blaze after a dry storm rolled through the area, just hours after the Bureau of Meteorology had issues severe weather and thunderstorm warnings for the Central West and Upper Western regions of the state.

Lightning strikes prove incredibly dangerous and common causes of grass and bush fires in hot, dry conditions, leading the RFS to reiterate words of warning ahead of the forecast heatwave across the state this weekend.
Temperatures are expected to soar upward of 40 degrees across the region over the weekend and into Australia Day on Tuesday, with low relative humidity and strong winds forming a perfect trifecta for fire conditions.

“People need to take this seriously,” RFS NSW director Peter McKechnie told reporters on Thursday.

“This season we haven’t had these heightened fire dangers but we have now got to be prepared.”

“We’re hoping that the wind doesn’t also increase too much, because then we’ve got the holy trilogy being high temperatures, low humidity and high winds,” NSW RFS Canobolas Zone operations officer Brett Bowden told the Cowra Guardian.
“It’s probably the first consecutive days of heatwave activity that we’ve seen this summer and we are somewhat concerned about fires starting and then being difficult to control.”

Firefighters in the Lachlan area also attended a blaze at Tullibigeal Central School on Thursday afternoon, which broke out in an area used as the library and common room.

The building wasn’t detroyed, classrooms weren’t damaged the fire was brought under control.

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