Our news roundup from around the state ….

NSW bushfire outlook for 2020/21. Areas of concern named

The Northern Daily Leader reported that the Far North Coast, South Coast and the northern ranges are all being closely monitored by fire authorities, with the dry sub-soil conditions a cause for concern.

Although the country is still in the middle of winter, the recent Australian Seasonal Bushfire Outlook is a timely reminder that the fire season is just around the corner, which started in August for some places in 2019. The quarterly report is be used by fire authorities to make strategic decisions around resource planning and fire management.

Large parts of NSW west of the Great Dividing Range have experienced welcome rain since March, which has increased soil moisture in these areas. However, long-term rainfall deficiencies remain right across the state. In particular, the dry sub-soil conditions on the northern ranges, far north coast and south coast are of concern, and these areas are being closely monitored.

Read more ....

The Lindfield Park Road bushfire in Port Macquarie began 12 months ago

The Camden Haven Courier reported that it

has been 12 months since the first bushfire of the devastating and unprecedented 2019 bushfire season on the Mid North Coast began.

The Lindfield Park fire at Port Macquarie started on Thursday, July 18 last year and burned for more than 200 days, consuming in excess of 400 hectares of peat in the process.

Believed to have been deliberately lit, RFS Mid Coast district officer, Stuart Robb, said the fire presented a host of challenges to those fighting it. Being a peat fire, the blaze burned horizontally beneath the soil layer and continued to pop up in new places.

Traditional methods of combatting the fire, such as digging the peat out of the ground, were also complicated by the environmental characteristics of the area. “We had acid sulfate soils, we had the fact that it was peat, we also had the fact that we were in a bio-bank, we were also in a koala habitat, and we also had sensitive vegetation, so all of those factors meant how we could deal with the fire at hand was somewhat more difficult,” Mr Robb said.

“Put on top of that the fact we had such little rain and the area was so dry.” Eventually, the RFS transferred more than 65 megalitres of reclaimed water from the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council’s water treatment facility through a three kilometre hose line to rehydrate the wetland and raise the water level.

This measure, combined with significant rainfall in February of this year, saw the fire finally extinguished. But by then it had caused considerable damage to the local environment.

“It damaged and destroyed the bio-bank – which was the council’s bushland area that had been set aside – it significantly damaged the koala habitat, it impacted on properties in and around the Lindfield Park area,” Mr Robb explained.

More …

Read the ABC report on the same story here.

The Wytaliba bridge, lost to bushfire, could be rebuilt by January according to one tender for the job

The Northern Daily Leader reported that the tiny New England town of Wytaliba could hav e a new flood proof brindge by the new year.

Old bushfire season rules no longer apply

AAP reported that the old rules that bushfire seasons occur at different times across Australia no longer apply because of the changing climate, a royal commission has been told.

The old rules that bushfire seasons occur at different times across Australia no longer apply because of the changing climate, a royal commission has been told. Queensland Fire and Emergency Services commissioner Greg Leach says the climatic evidence indicates the seasons are changing and becoming longer, hotter and drier.

“The old rules, if you like, probably no longer apply,” he told the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements on Friday. “You’ve got to take each season on its merits based on what we’re seeing with the changing climatic conditions.”

Mr Leach said the bushfire season did not usually occur across Australia at the same time, typically starting in the north and moving progressively south. The advantage of that was resources could be moved around and reallocated to respond to fires as they occurred in different locations and jurisdictions, he said.

The bushfire season usually starts in northern and central Queensland in August/September and makes its way south over the summer months. Fires started earlier than usual last year, in July, due to the drier than normal conditions Queensland had experienced.

“Parts of Queensland had experienced several years of drought and that had an effect on drying out the soil and the fuels right across Queensland,” Mr Leach said.

Bushfires Australia: NSW RFS officials tell inquiry firefighters are underfunded amid donations row

When half a billion dollars is not enough!

Rural Fire officials claim the service is underfunded and unable to do everything required, as the battle over $51 million in donations continues.

Channel 9 News reported:

“We still don’t have enough money to do what we need to do,” RFS Association President Brian McDonough said today.Mr McDonough was speaking to a parliamentary inquiry looking into a new bill that would aim to redistribute the record breaking amount.

“The money’s been given, it’s been through the courts, it’s allocated to the Rural Fire Service,” Mr McDonough said.The inquiry follows a Supreme court ruling, giving the RFS sole rights to the money raised by comedian Celeste Barber.In a submission to the inquiry Ms Barber wrote: “My concern is that if it is not possible to help these people have their money allocated to where they want it to go in this unprecedented instance that this may be the last we see of such generosity on such an international scale”.

Christmas in July on hold as Cobargo rebuilds

About Regional reports that six months ago, bushfires cancelled New Year’s Eve celebrations for grief-stricken Cobargo residents. Now COVID-19 has wiped out Christmas in July.

The Cobargo Tourist and Business Association had planned to hold a Christmas in July event on 25 July, but has been forced to make the tough decision to postpone it because of COVID-19 restrictions.

A pipe band was going to travel from Sydney to Cobargo to play Christmas carols. Busloads of people were expected from across NSW. An invitation had even been extended to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, despite the chilly reception he received from locals back in January.

Cobargo Tourist and Business Association vice-president Janet Doolin told Region Media the event would have been a much-needed boost for people in the area, whose lives have been on hold as the town slowly rebuilds from the bushfires. We were going to have people coming from all directions, but we just don’t have the resources to make it happen,” she said.

“We just can’t risk people’s health. It’s so sad as it would have been really good for the community to come together.” The event is on hold until current COVID-19 restrictions ease, however there are plans for another event in September – the Fire Up Cobargo Rebuild Festival, which is being organised by a band of people who are determined to get the town back on its feet.

Six months on from the bushfires, Ms Doolin and Cobargo Tourist and Business Association president Andrew Hayden said the mental health of people in the area is their biggest concern. The town has received media attention from around the world, but people who lost their properties are still living rough in makeshift accommodation donated by the community.

“Everybody is exhausted from working on rebuilding their lives seven days a week,” said Mr Hayden. “You’d have no idea what we went through unless you were there. You can’t even describe it.”

He talks about a town in France, Villers-Bretonneux, where two soldiers from Cobargo died during World War I while trying to defend it. “The people there got together and raised $30,000 for Cobargo so we’re going to put that into restoring the RSL club,” said Mr Hayden.

“It could be anywhere between two and 10 years before we completely rebuild the town.” Ms Doolin said some people were just too traumatised to ask for help.

Four of the best: landscapes of the firegrounds and beyond

Elisabeth Cummings, Entrance to N’Dhala Gorge, 2019

The Sydney Morning Herald highlighted four art works that reflected the seasons bushfires. Check them out on this link.

Life membership of NSW Rural Fire Service awarded to Tinonee brigade member Bert Bennett

The Wingham Chronicle reported that

Tinonee Rural Fire Service member, Bert Bennett was awarded with life membership of the Rural Fire Service on Tuesday, July 14. The presentation took place at the brigade’s first meeting since lockdown due to the pandemic, with proper adherence to social distancing rules and some 15 members attending via Zoom.

Bert has been a member of the Tinonee brigade since transferring from Kurrajong Heights in 2006 when he and his wife Linda moved to Mondrook. Two years later he also joined the Mid Coast Community Engagement Brigade. He has held varying positions in the Tinonee brigade including training officer, permit officer, equipment officer, community engagement officer, RFSA representative, and deputy captain.

In the Mid Coast Community Engagement Brigade Bert has also undertaken various roles, including as convenor of the Bush Fire Risk Management Team, convenor of the Preparation and Presentation of Fire Wise Information and the establishment of fire wise groups, member of Mid Coast RFS Secondary School Cadet Training Group having trained in excess of 1000 local cadets, and member of the district manager’s Advisory Committee for the delivery of the Current Bush Fire Management Plan to 92 Mid Coast District brigades.

From 2009 to 2013 Bert was part of a team that visited more than 5000 property owners to discuss the then newly introduced Bush Fire Survival Plan. “During the November/December Black Summer 2019/2020 fires Bert’s extensive knowledge of our local brigade area, and the high-risk areas within, allowed him to set up a forward communications post in his private vehicle,” Tinonee Rural Fire Brigade president, Alan Steber said.

“He ventured out before, during and after the fire front approached to warn property holders of impending danger, check on their preparedness and offer safety advice. “Many messages of thanks have been received from those community members, not least those from Camp Memories who appreciated Bert’s early call to abandon the camp on the day they were to start. All tents were up, food organised, plans in place, but the fire was coming so Bert called it. They lost sheds and tents and equipment but no lives.

“His contribution to Tinonee Brigade over 13 plus years he has been a member has been exceptional and we want to thank him for his dedication to our community and our brigade,” Alan said.

Indigenous regenerative land management included in agricultural program at TAFE

The ABC repoted that a First Nations teacher and mentor is combining Indigenous conservation methods with western agriculture in one of the first courses of its type through TAFE.

Nyungar elder Clint Hansen is teaching in the wide-ranging Certificate II in Conservation and Land Management through Geraldton’s Central Regional TAFE and Batavia Coast Maritime Institute. He said the content included rehydrating creeks and rivers, controlled burning in a holistic way, and regenerative agriculture using de-stress stock methods.

“In our Indigenous First Nation culture, dirt is not dead to us,” he said.

Portrait of an Aboriginal man with a greying moustache.
Elder Clint Hansen teaches Aboriginal regenerative land management to TAFE students.(Supplied: Clint Hansen)

“Mother Earth — the Boodja or Bunna — is not dead because if you add water it will create a plant.

More here ….

RFS recognises ANU for bushfire support

The ANU reports that the Australian National University has been awarded the 2020 Supportive Employer Special Commendation by the NSW Rural Fire Service.

ANU is one of 12 organisations nationally to receive the honour this year, which recognises the vital contribution of employers who support their employees serving in the NSW RFS. Russell Buzby, Executive Officer of the Research School of Social Sciences who is a member of the Braidwood RFS Brigade, nominated ANU for the honour.

“I was defending my own home, my town, and the homes of my neighbours, friends, and family, but didn’t suffer any financial disadvantage,” Russell says.

Heritage fire trucks retired after a final sprint during black summer

The 1990 Mercedes 911 at Dry Plains didn’t miss a beat in 2019-20

About Regional repoted that it’s out with the old and in with the new across the Cooma-Monaro as several RFS brigades receive new firetrucks after a horrible fire season swept the region.

Mid-1980s fire engines from the Adaminaby Rural Fire Brigade and the Dry Plains Brigade, which fall under the Monaro Rural Fire Service Team, have been replaced with upgraded Cat 1 trucks. But despite the fact the newer trucks come with power steering and air conditioning, the crew at Dry Plains is still sad to see their old 1990 Mercedes 911 retire.

“We called it strong-arm steering, I loved driving it around,” captain of the Dry Plains Brigade, Anthony Vanderplatt, told Region Media.

“The old girl was good but we can’t get the parts now. This summer was the most times we took her out since 2003 – it was one of the only trucks that would reach the top peak where the Adaminaby fire started and she did not miss a beat.

“But only a handful of people could drive it. Poor Pete, who’s five-foot-nothing, has to almost stand up to put the clutch in!”

When Darren Marks, who is now the captain of the Cooma Brigade, first joined the RFS in 1997 at Wallaroo, some of the trucks were as old as he was.

“The only reason I joined was that I liked driving big red trucks,” he laughed.

“It is always a bit of fun. I still enjoy getting in and driving them around although it does not happen as much as I would like at the moment but that is the nature of the beast.”

Check out all the photos here.

Macarthur volunteer firefighter looks back on devastating fire season

The Macarthur Avertiser reported that throughout this year’s fire season Australia’s unsung heroes were finally recognised for the hardwork that they do.

NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteers were stretched to the limit battling fires on several fronts and supporting their families. Varroville RFS senior deputy captain Jason Johnson knows all too well what it was like.

Mr Johnson was tasked with battling the Green Wattle Creek fire which destroyed or damaged more than 30 homes in Wollondilly. “I spent a fair amount of time from November through to January battling the fire from Wallacia through to Warragamba,” he said.

“It’s hard to describe just what it was like. The fire was different every day, it was different in every area. The energy was particularly heightened when we were working to protect people’s homes.”

The Campbelltown resident has been a proud volunteer with the RFS for the past 16 years.

Large, illegal bushfire burn at Tebbs Road Narooma

The Narooma News reported that

Narooma Rural Fire Service has warned landowners to learn the rules of backyard burning after an illegal blaze called for five firefighting trucks on Sunday evening, July 12.

Captain Sophie Taylor said two Narooma crews, three Dalmeny crews and an RFS group officer were called to the Tebbs Road bushfire, after a member of the public dialed Triple 0 just after 5pm. Ms Taylor said the burnoff was not arranged in piles, and the landowner lit the illegal fire to clean up logs and bush over about 400 metres on the property.

The fire was well-contained, however it was “so big” that many resources were needed to extinguish it. Flames were also within five metres of a shed. She said the heavy rain was a crucial factor in helping extinguish it. Volunteers finished at the scene at 8.30pm.

Ms Taylor said it was critical for landowners to be educated about the rules and regulations of lighting fires before striking a match. Notification of an intent to burn is a legal requirement of a landowner to let their adjoining neighbours know they are burning off and advise the fire control centre. Both require 24 hours’ notice before lighting a pile.

Call the Eurobodalla Shire fire control centre at Moruya on 4474 2855.

Car misses bridge in Wilsons Creek

The Echo Daily reported that a ute with a young man inside, that had missed a bridge in Wilsons Creek and landed in the creek, was reported to emergency services early yesterday morning (Thursday, 16 July).

Police, Ambulance, the Rural Fire Service (RFS), and Fire and Rescue all attended the scene. ‘The vehicle missed the newly built bridge at the tenth creek crossing on Wilsons Creek,’ said Wilsons Creek RFS Captain John Milford.

‘The occupant, who appeared to be a young man in his late teens, said he had had the accident at about 9.30pm the night before (Wednesday, 15 July) been trapped in the vehicle overnight.’ Emergency services had no difficulty opening the door to assist the man exit the vehicle. He was then treated at the scene by Ambulance NSW before being taken home by his parents.

Virus may restrict overseas fire aircraft

AAP reported that coronavirus restrictions are expected to make it challenging to bring in the international firefighting aircraft and crews that Australia needs in the coming bushfire season.

Emergency Management Victoria deputy commissioner Chris Stephenson says the possible impact on international assistance, particularly in terms of aircraft, is an issue across Australia. “One of the real issues or constraints for the country at the moment is international assistance and what that might look like if required this bushfire season,” Mr Stephenson told the natural disasters royal commission.

The NSW and Tasmanian fire services also say the pandemic will likely affect the provision of aerial firefighting services this fire season, as travel restrictions and quarantine requirements may affect the availability of international pilots and maintenance crews. “Australia cannot provide enough aircraft alone,” Tasmania Fire Service chief officer Chris Arnol said on Thursday.

“It needs to have overseas aircraft and crews coming to this country to support us in our firefighting efforts.”

Far South Coast Indigenous fire practitioners for hire on private land

About Regional reported that the South Coast NSW Aboriginal Elders association (SCAE) and Batemans Bay Local Aboriginal Land Council recently conducted the first traditional burn on private land since the past summer’s bushfires. The burn took place in early July on the Meringo property owned by Mark and Julie Mills.

SCAE’s business manager Prue Bartlett says people are worried about fuel loads post-bushfires and have been wondering whether they can hire crews to put knowledge into action on private land.

Cultural burning is proven to reduce the intensity of bushfires over time.

“This is kind of a new thing; no-one has ever done it before,” says Prue. “Finding consistent funding to do cultural burns is difficult and has historically employed crews casually. We hope to have two or three crews working consistently, burning not just on private land but on council land and in national parks as well.”

Tall grass burnt lightly across the hillside with thin white smoke drifting up towards nearby trees, while local Aboriginal elders, landholders and friends watched on in safety.

“This is the way it is supposed to be,” enthuses Walbanja elder and traditional owner Uncle Les Simon.

Uncle Les and Owen Carriage started SCAE in response to the need for more cultural burning – the ancient Aboriginal method of regenerating country – they say.

The plan is for the crew – which includes Andy White from Batemans Bay Local Land Services, and Dan Morgan and Noel Webster from Bega Local Aboriginal Land Council – to carry out a long-term controlled burn, starting with the open grassland they burnt last week and moving to coastal eucalyptus forest on the same property at a later date.

“This area is being burned first because that was what the conditions called for,” says Uncle Les. “Or to be more poetic and use a more Indigenous phrase, this is what country wants.”

The crew considers every aspect of the land before burning, from vegetation cover – in this case, native Themeda grasslands – to wind direction, slope of the land, soil moisture content and the time of year.

“When the conditions are right, the forest floor will get its turn to burn in this gentle way, too,” says Uncle Les.

Cultural burns are much cooler than hazard reduction burns and operate according to the deliberate use of natural mosaic patterns in nature, making them easier to control and allowing fauna to relocate and survive. Such burns not only remove leaf litter, restoring the conditions under which native grasses can flourish, they also trigger the seedbank.

“Using fire as a tool controls weeds, reduces thick shrubs and fuel, and triggers the plant species that prefer this relatively ‘cold’ fire – the ones that became adapted to it over countless generations of Aboriginal tending to and caring for country,” explains Uncle Les.

Hot burns – such as an out-of-control bushfire or hazard reduction burn – become a vicious cycle as plants which prefer hot burns prevail and devastating bushfires actually become more likely, according to Les.

SCAE is dedicated to promoting the safe use of fire to regenerate bushland and farms, but the elders also have a bigger vision in mind. They are developing a business model for cultural burning on private properties and see it as a stepping stone to a renewal of cultural traditions.

The association hopes to secure funding to create employment for elders and the youth they train, incorporating sustainable business models to offer traditional burning to the wider community.

In time, they hope this will also include guided walks on country, a local rangers program and cultural campsites that could be used to revitalise Aboriginal ceremony as well as provide for ecotourism possibilities and more education, training and employment opportunities, not only for Aboriginal people but also the wider community.

If you are a private landholder with native vegetation and wish to engage a cultural burning team to manage your land, you can contact Prue Bartlett on 0427 825 273.

To donate to the SCAE GoFundMe campaign and support local cultural burning, visit here.

You can also follow the South Coast NSW Aboriginal Elders association on Facebook.

New COVID-19 hotspot ‘another kick’ for bushfire-affected town

2GB reported that there are fears around a new COVID-19 cluster growing in the bushfire ravaged area of southern NSW.

NSW has reported 20 new coronavirus cases overnight, as concerns grow over a cluster in Batemans Bay.

12 confirmed COVID-19 cases have now been linked to the Batemans Bay Soldiers Club.

Eurobodalla Mayor Liz Innes told Deborah Knight this latest coronavirus outbreak has caused yet another setback for local businesses struggling to survive.

“There was starting to be this sense of positivity around.

“We had people, after the initial lockdown, just starting to travel back into the regions and show us their love and support, which we were so very, very grateful for.

“But as tough and hard as this is – another kick for our businesses – we really do have to put the health of our people first and foremost.”

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