News Roundup June 2nd

Firefighter boost for next NSW fire season

7 News reported that more than 120 extra National Parks and Wildlife Service firefighters will be on the ground before the next bushfire season in NSW.

A $22.9 million boost from the NSW government will see the additional 125 NPWS firefighters increase hazard reductions in and around the highest risk areas across the state.

The funds will also go towards an additional helicopter to help aerial firefighting teams.

Shoalhaven hardest hit region financially from bushfires

The South Coast Register reports that the South Coast regions have borne the brunt of the economic impact of the bushfires, as communities struggle to recover nearly six months on from the crisis.

Modelling undertaken by Ernst and Young for the National Bushfire Recovery Agency found the Shoalhaven was the area worst hit financially.

Across the bushfire impacted areas there will be a $3.6 billion hit.

The tourism and hospitality sectors were predicted to cop the worst of the damage, with $1.9 billion in estimated losses. The agriculture industry was expected to take a $1 billion hit, with $700 million in losses expected for the forestry sector, too.

Eighty per cent of the economic losses were concentrated in just 30 local government areas.

The Shoalhaven area was expected to suffer the largest economic losses, predicted to be $345 million. Ernst and Young estimated there was a 40 to 70 per cent downturn in tourism over the summer due to evacuations, with a potential 5 to 15 per cent fall in the long term.

Fire crews clear out Tura reserve

The Bega District News reports that hazard reduction burns in Tura on Saturday have played a dual role.

Fire and Rescue NSW crews from Bega to Batemans Bay amassed on High Crescent to carry out two controlled burns, but also as a meet and greet and learning experience for locally based Community Fire Unit volunteers.

Duty commander for the South Monaro region Alan Gerard said it was a low-intensity burn to clear fuel load on the ground and meet local volunteers.

“Fire and Rescue are here today to conduct a low-intensity burn on sections two and six of the reserve, there are eight sections in total and next year we’ll possibly do another two sections – it’s what we call a mosaic burn,” Mr Gerard said.

“It’s been on the schedule for a few years, so when it comes down to its turn we try and get it done.”

Mr Gerard said the single-road access to the area was one consideration for the burn, but it was also at community request as locals considered the dense growth in the reserve to be a risk.

Bushfire response proves system not built for growing scale of disasters

The Canberra Times reports that it says a lot that despite governments showering billions of dollars on bushfire-affected communities, some areas are being left high and dry.

The scale of the government and public response to the disaster was overwhelming. The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements this week heard more than $1 billion was now at work in communities, with around $240 million going out in disaster recovery payments and allowances alone.

But these massive numbers have paled in comparison to the need arising from this crisis.

Approximately 35 million hectares burnt across Australia over the last bushfire season. Smoke from the fires reached 80 per cent of the population.

But only 111 local government areas covering 13.5 million hectares are able to access disaster recovery funding. And while 193,000 claims for the disaster recovery grants or allowance have been approved, more than 24,000 have been rejected.

National Bushfire Recovery co-ordinator Andrew Colvin acknowledged to the commission that the help you received depended on which side of an “artificial line” you lived on.

This is because historically when a flood, fire or hurricane hit, you needed to be directly impacted to claim government aid.

The sheer immensity of the Black Summer bushfires has broken that model.

Bushfire survivors say red tape is hampering recovery, but fundraisers have helped

The ABC News reports that some days, Roy Annesley believes surviving the bushfire was easier than the long journey to rebuild his life in its wake.

Mr Annesley spent six weeks in a Sydney hospital suffering severe burns to about 55 per cent of his body after he was trapped on his property during the Kian Road bushfire on the New South Wales Mid North Coast last November.

He came back to find the house he had lived in for two decades was burnt to the ground.

Mr Annesley said his recovery had been slow and painful, as he struggled with everyday movement such as walking and going to the toilet.

Since he returned to the Mid North Coast Mr Annesley has been living in a bus, which he purchased with money from an online fundraiser started by his son.

Mr Annesley said like many others who lost homes during the fires, he had been inundated with phone numbers, websites and forms by government agencies and charities.

He said his son had helped him to complete the onerous paperwork to receive the relief available.

“I just can’t do all the groundwork to try and do all of this stuff, I can’t even do anything — I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning,” Mr Annesley said.

“They should contact you, you shouldn’t have to chase them.”

Satellites and AI to help fight bushfires

Science Meets Business reports that Australia’s $245 million SmartSat CRC was launched in September 2019 and immediately kickstarted a practical test of its potential contribution to communities. Australia’s devastating 2019-2020 bushfires focused attention on every aspect of bushfire management: prediction, warning, response and recovery. The SmartSat CRC is concentrating on one particular problem area.

A persistent challenge for firefighters is tracking a fire front in real time, says University of Queensland researcher, Professor Stuart Phinn, one of SmartSat CRC’s program leaders. 

To direct firefighting resources, emergency managers need high spatial resolution images that can be updated “every couple of minutes”, says Phinn, who is program director for the SmartSat CRC’s Next Generation Earth Observation Data Services program. “You can do that from drones, but you can’t fly drones or aircraft through smoke and cloud all of the time.”

The answer may lie in space-based sensors. The SmartSat CRC could integrate new modes and AI-enhanced algorithms on existing and future Earth observation satellites to provide an increasingly accurate, real-time picture of a bushfire.

RSPCA mobile welfare unit tours NSW bushfire-affected regions

About Regional reports that RSPCA NSW has hit the road to help wounded and injured animals in bushfire-affected communities as part of its $2.6 million emergency response fund.

The mobile animal welfare response unit is making its way down the NSW South Coast this week to places including Batemans Bay, Moruya, Cobargo and Eden, before travelling inland to Cooma and Goulburn.

RSPCA NSW staff will be in a position to respond to emergency calls as they are equipped with satellite phones and personal protective equipment such as breathing apparatuses.

RSPCA NSW CEO Steve Coleman said the new mobile welfare unit is another step forward to help animals in disaster zones across the state.

Get Your Chimney Checked

The Northern Daily Leader reports that fire crews are urging locals to g et their chimneys checked after they responded to three houses fires in Kootingal, Duri and Appleby near Hallsville.

Bushfire survivors say luck and good planning saved them from Black Summer fires

The ABC reports that months of fire preparation helped these couples survive the firestorm at Tinpot on New Year’s Day, while to their south a Quaama woman sought shelter in the only thing not burning — a classic car.

In the aftermath of the fires in the New South Wales south east, survivors were still relating these stories to their friends and counsellors, but many will not be heard by the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.

For them, it was too soon to take part in formal government inquiries as they still faced challenges.

‘I think people are prepared to listen’: Calls for more cultural burning in Southern Queensland after 2019 fire season

The ABC reports that indigenous rangers in Southern Queensland are conducting cultural burns on State Government-owned properties, with leaders calling it a “breakthrough” for bushfire management.

The Bunya Peoples’ Aboriginal Rangers Corporation (BPARC) has reached an agreement with the Department of Transport and Main Roads to hold burns on land it purchased as part of the Toowoomba Bypass development in the early 2000s.

One of the first burns took place on Mount Kynoch, north of Toowoomba, this week.

BPARC General Manager Paul Dawson said the group had been working to revive the use of traditional practices in the area since 2009.

“I think over the next five years we desperately need a rapid expansion of Aboriginal fire practitioners across the country,” he said.

The water stopped. But the fire kept coming

The ABC has put together a blow-by-blow account of the fire that devastated the Conjola community, and what Australia can learn from it

More aerial rapid-response firefighters for NSW National Parks

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the state’s National Parks and Wildlife Service will have its funding increased by $22.9 million to hire more firefighters for its aerial rapid-response teams and help pay for an extra helicopter before the next fire season starts.

The new funds will allow the NPWS to increase the size of its aerial rapid-response firefighting teams by up to 80 firefighters, said NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean, increasing its capacity to fight fires by 20 per cent.

The rapid-response teams are airlifted into remote and rugged locations to extinguish fires and were critical to the efforts to save the famous stand of ancient Wollemi Pines in the Blue Mountains from fire this year.

“One of the remarkable achievements of our NPWS remote area fire crews has been their ability to extinguish fires early, even in very remote locations, preventing them from becoming larger and more dangerous fires,” said Mr Kean.

Cobargo’s bushfire clean-up moves forward

The Bega District News reports that the NSW and Commonwealth Government-funded bushfire clean-up program is well underway in Cobargo.

There have been 197 properties cleared around the Cobargo area, while a further 201 properties have clean-up works scheduled to begin in the coming weeks.

“We now have 14 crews in the area, working alongside the Laing O’Rourke team based in our Cobargo site office,” Laing O’Rourke bushfire clean-up project leader Paul Barrie said.

“We understand how important the clean-up is for the people of Cobargo and it is great to see the progress being made along the main street.

“The works required on main street are complex and many factors, from asbestos removal to the management of heritage items, have had to be carefully considered before work could proceed.”

Laing O’Rourke is reminding residents it is not too late to register for the clean-up by visiting Service NSW or calling 1800 007 539.

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