Bushfire photo showing ‘wave of flames’ secures Australian Geographic’s top nature image prize

The ABC reported that an image of flames “snaking across” a mountain taken during Australia’s Black Summer bushfires has earned its photographer top prize at one of the nation’s most prestigious nature photography competitions.

Queensland’s Ben Blanche snapped the photo at a tinder-dry Mount Barney National Park, south-west of Brisbane, last November.

He has now been recognised as the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year for 2020, an award bestowed by the South Australian Museum.

Recalling the scene that secured him the honour, Mr Blanche said he was helped by a local who provided information on fire conditions “leading up to the day”.

“The fire was rather slow-moving and took some hours to move across the mountain,” Mr Blanche said.

Some of the other award winners included these two:

Central Tablelands Local Land Services releases fire management book

The Central Western Daily reported that after 10 years, a campfire conversation between Wiradjuri man Russel Hill and ecologist Milton Lewis has resulted in a new book about traditional Aboriginal fire management knowledge.

The Central Tablelands Local Land Services with support from the Orange Local Aboriginal Land Council launched the book titled Lighting the Path: A Journey to Heal People and Country.

Local Land Services senior land officer Greg Ingram said the book explores the practice of cultural burning and the use of cool burn techniques to restore the health of both people and land across NSW.

“Lighting the Path is not a ‘how to guide’ to lighting cool burns, he said.

The story has been compiled by key authors Michelle Hines, Larry Towney, Greg Ingram and Milton Lewis

The book is available to read online through the LLS website: www.lls.nsw.gov.au/regions/central-tablelands/key-projects/lighting-the-path

Loftus Volunteer Bushfire Brigade president a finalist in emergency services peronnel awards

The Leader reported that the president of Loftus branch of NSW Rural Fire Service has been named one of the state finalists in awards honouring emergency services personnel.

Robert Cole, the president and deputy captain of Loftus Volunteer Bushfire Brigade, is one of 28 finalists in the Rotary Districts of NSW Emergency Services Community Awards (RESCA).

His nomination is in recognition of his visit to bushfire-ravaged Kangaroo Valley to speak directly to and assist locals. While there he spent his own money to help stimulate the economy.

He has been involved with the bushfire service for seven years, but has racked up 40 years with community organisations, including Rotary and the Salvation Army.

He has also volunteered as a guide at the Powerhouse Museum.

His professional life saw him work as an orthoptist, helping people to walk for the first time or regain their ability to walk.

He raised funds to allow a child who could not walk and their parents to go to the US for treatment. He also worked with a paraplegic woman so she could walk down the aisle on her wedding day.

Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott announced the finalists earlier this week.

The community-nominated awards honour both paid and volunteer emergency services personnel. This year saw the highest ever number of nominations.

Mr Elliott said the awards were a chance to shine a light on the enormous contribution of emergency services workers.

“The past year has been an exceptionally challenging one for our community and this is an appropriate time to pause, reflect and congratulate the individual emergency services for the service that they have provided,” Mr Elliot said.

“Finalists have more than 600 years of combined service and I thank them all for their exemplary community service.”

This year’s finalists represent Fire and Rescue NSW, the NSW Rural Fire Service, the NSW State Emergency Service, Marine Rescue NSW, Surf Life Saving NSW, NSW Ambulance and the NSW Volunteer Rescue Association.

Winners will be announced at an awards presentation on Friday, October 30.

NSW winners will then go on to represent the state at the national awards held in November.

Landowner calls for cultural shift in bushfire prevention as government adopts bushfire inquiry recommendations

The Wauchope Gazette reported that the NSW bushfire inquiry report has received a mixed reaction from landowners in the Port Macquarie-Hastings.

The final report was handed down in late July and released on Tuesday, August 25.

One of the key recommendations will see landowners obliged to conduct more hazard-reduction burns on their properties and taking a more active role in bushfire prevention.

Hazard-reduction burns will also be increased where there is close proximity to endangered communities.

Rollands Plains Community Group spokesperson Neil Jones welcomed the “attention taken up by the bushfire inquiry”.

He warned that fire management practices have to change and those changes maintained. “We actually need a cultural shift,” he said.

However, he says, one key area of funding was missing from the final report.

“What is missing is more funding for National Parks and Wildlife Service and Forests NSW to employ people on the ground to maintain these fire breaks, once established,” he said.

“They talk about hazard reduction burns but they don’t provide the necessary experienced staff to conduct these fire breaks.

Mr Jones said National Parks had lost experienced rangers through early retirement or through earlier [state government] cut backs.

He also acknowledged the increase in hazard reductions in national parks and supported the emphasis on increased water bombing.

He hopes aboriginal cultural burning is part of the fire risk management practices “moving forward”.

“The RFS should be on the ground when a hazard reduction burn is being undertaken.

Bellangry landowner Darren Sage, who lost his family home in the February 2020 bushfires, remains convinced he could have saved his home.

“If I was allowed to undertake hazard reduction burns, without a doubt, my home would still be standing.”

“If this inquiry gives me more control over what I can burn it is going to help.

Traumatised Kangaroo Valley residents prepare for another fire season

The Canberra Times reported that for Brigid Jordan and her husband Andy, witnessing the rejuvenation of their small Kangaroo Valley block of land after the devastating summer bushfires has been cathartic.

Since the firestorm swept through the valley, which lies about two hours’ drive from both Sydney and Canberra, the couple has spent countless hours trying to restore their land to its former glory.

The biggest solace for Brigid was replanting her vegetable patch which didn’t stand a chance against the heat and flames of the Currowan bushfire on January 4.

Where once blackened trees stood as a constant reminder of that terrifying day, now green leaves populate the branches.

The grass is green, citrus trees have been replanted, and fences, along with hearts, have slowly been mended.

“I was much more affected by the fire and the trauma of it than I ever expected,” Mrs Jordan said.

“It was only in my overreactions to other normal things that I realised how shocked and traumatised I was. I am still working through those emotions.

“We stayed and fought to save our house and we were in better place to recover than some of our neighbours on Duffys Lane who lost their homes and now live in caravans.

“We were really lucky to have our house.”

Almost 50 trees inside their paddock burnt on January 4, and despite Mrs Jordan’s best efforts, and hopes, many of them did not recover and had to be ripped out – yet another blow for the avid gardener.

“There was nothing left of my vegetable garden but now we are eating vegetables from there again,” she said.

The last stage of their rebuild was making a new chicken coop, putting in the plumbing and completing the electrical work for the shed and water tank pump.

Central Coast Fire and Rescue NSW crews undertaking hazard reduction burn at Bonnells Bayanket Sydney in smoke

The Lakes Mail reported that residents of Bonnells Bay and surrounds who see smoke over the area, don’t be alarmed. Fire and Rescue NSW crews are carrying out a hazard reduction burn.

FRNSW said a number of Central Coast crews were on Monday taking “advantage of the stable weather conditions” to undertake a hazard reduction burn around Bonnells Bay.

“The burn is scheduled to run from 10am for a number of hours and smoke is expected in the vicinity,” the fire authority said.

“Hazard reduction burns are a major priority for the state’s fire authorities to assist in the preparation for the upcoming bush fire season.”

Residents in the area are advised to take the following precautions:

  • Ensure windows and doors are closed to help prevent smoke entering their homes.
  • Keep outdoor furniture under cover to prevent ember burns.
  • Retract pool covers to prevent ember damage.
  • Remove washing from clotheslines.
  • Ensure pets have a protected area.
  • Vehicles must slow down, keep windows up, turn headlights on.
  • Sightseers must keep away from burns for their own safety.
  • People with asthma or lung conditions are advised to reduce outdoor activities. If smoke levels are high and if shortness of breath or coughing develops, take your reliever medicine or seek medical advice.

If you spot a fire that is unattended, phone triple zero (000).

Eye on grass fires as Hunter looks towards bushfire season

The Cessnock Advertiser reported that fast-moving grass fires are the biggest concern for the Hunter coming into this year’s bushfire danger period, the NSW Rural Fire Service says, with a close eye set to be on “high-risk” hot-spots across the region that did not burn during the state’s disastrous summer of 2019-20.

Meanwhile, police will conduct check-ups and visits of the Hunter’s convicted arsonists and known firebugs to reduce the risk of blazes being deliberately lit.

In an interview with Australian Community Media last week, RFS Commissioner Rob Rogers said conditions across NSW were not expected to be as complex for firefighters this season, compared with last, but he warned that any “bad day” could become a threat.

“What we haven’t had in the last few years is a grass fire risk. Certainly when you start getting into Cessnock and up into the Singleton area, we’ve had significant rainfall so there’s a lot of grass and when that grass starts to dry out then we’ll be quite concerned,” he said.

“Grass fires can be quite dangerous and quite deadly and that’s something we’re focusing on.

“And you’ve got bushland right into Newcastle itself – any of those areas, on a bad day, can become a problem fire.

“You don’t need to be in a really bad drought like we were in the last few years – any bad day and a fire starts in the wrong spot, it can be damaging property or even worse.”

The 2019-20 bushfire season was long and destructive. It caused devastation in many parts of the state, particularly on the north coast and in the southern regions.

By season’s end, 26 people had died and almost 2500 homes had been destroyed.

Two people missing on the Far North Coast

The Echo Net Daily reported that police are still involved with the search for two missing people today, one at Red Rock and the other at Lake Arragan.

Police are appealing for information on the whereabouts of a woman who was last seen at a North Coast campground last week.

Seventy-three year old AnneMarie Jeffery is described as, of Caucasian appearance, with a slim build and grey hair. Photo NSW Police Facebook.

Annemarie Jeffery, aged 73, was last seen at the campground in Lake Arragan, north of Brooms Head, about 9am Tuesday (25 August 2020).

Officers from Coffs Clarence Police District – along with the SES, RFS, National Parks and Wildlife (NPWS), and local volunteers – have been searched the area for four days but there has been no sign of Annemarie, and police hold serious concerns for her welfare. The regional Westpac helicopter crew has also been assisting.

Annemarie is described as being of Caucasian appearance, with a slim build and grey hair. She was wearing a red and pink top, woollen leggings, red shoes, and a beanie.

Police are appealing for anyone who may have seen a woman matching this description in the area since 9am Tuesday.

They are especially asking if anyone saw her walking along the roads in the surrounding area since that time, to contact police.

A dozen Hunter hazard reduction burns as weather heats up

The Maitland Mercury reported that fire crews have conducted more than a dozen hazard reduction burns across the Hunter over the weekend, minimising the impact that any bushfires would have on hundreds of homes this summer.

NSW Rural Fire Service firefighters who pulled on the gear and jumped on the truck across the region were relieved to be working on some bushfire mitigation rather than fighting blazes after a horror 2019-2020 fire season ended earlier this year.

There was plenty of smoke around the Hunter as RFS crews conducted prescribed burns at Fingal Bay, Neath, Beresfield, New Lambton, Cameron Park and Seahampton, minimising the risk of loss of homes for hundreds of residents.

Lower Hunter RFS district manager Superintendent Martin Siemsen stressed that hazard reduction burns don’t eliminate the chance of fire, but minimise the impact of any possible fires.

He said his crews and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service had conducted two burns at Fingal Bay and one at Neath over the weekend, potentially saving 350 homes.

“We’ll be looking to conduct further hazard reduction through the week around Clarence Town and Dungog if the weather keeps up,” Superintendent Siemsen said.

After a horror fire season followed up by a global pandemic, firefighters and residents in bushfire prone areas would be hopeful for a cool, wet and uneventful fire season.

Shoalhaven Heads Brigade celebrate upgraded station and new truck

The South Coast Register reported that the Shoalhaven Heads Brigade is celebrating a $1.3 million upgrade with the opening of its extended station and receipt of a new firetruck.

Member for Kiama Gareth Ward, NSW RFS Acting Deputy Commissioner Jason Heffernan and Shoalhaven Mayor Amanda Findley were at the official opening of the brigade’s upgraded home, handed over a new fire truck and thanked volunteers.

“This refurbished station, located on Shoalhaven Heads Road, will continue to provide enhanced support to volunteers as well as the communities they protect,” Mr Ward said.

“With the new facilities, it will further help members of the Shoalhaven Heads Brigade assist with vehicle housing, training and the fighting of fires locally.”

Shoalhaven Mayor Amanda Findley said it was important communities continue to invest in local RFS stations.

“This is an increasingly popular area in the holiday season, this upgrade will help keep Shoalhaven Heads and surrounding communities safe into the future,” she said

North Macksville RFS’s special force!

The Nambucca Guardian reported that the North Macksville RFS fielded its first ever all-female crew on the weekend and on Sunday you could say they had their baptism of fire!

As their first job of the day, the five strong crew of volunteers headed off in the Cat 1 to a Hazard Reduction Burn at Gumma …

BUT… just as they were about to leave, they were called to a Motor Vehicle Accident at Nambucca Heads, where a person was trapped in a car …

BUT … they were stood down just before arrival …

SO … they headed back to Hazard Reduction Burn ..

BUT … just as they were nearly there, they were called to a grass fire west of the Pacific Highway.

AFTER … attending this they finally arrived at Gumma …

AND … on the way home, they were diverted to another grass fire.

PHEW! It’s hot work just reporting this story!

Captain Paulla Brownhill said she was very proud of the team, who took everything in their stride and loved every minute of it.

“These are some of the best new recruits I’ve ever worked with – it just shows you don’t have to be a bloke to do this job!” Paulla said.

Bushfire royal commission says governments need to coordinate for ‘more intense’ natural disasters

The ABC reported that Australia’s a new emergency warning system needs to be finished quickly, the bushfire royal commission has said, after warning of “more frequent and intense” natural disasters in coming decades.

In handing down its interim report, the commission said many people had reported terms like “watch and act” were confusing.

Australia has a nationally agreed three-level bushfire warning system, but states and territories differ on how the warnings of “advice”, “watch and act” and “emergency” are interpreted.

“We have heard that the middle-level warning, ‘watch and act’, causes confusion — could it mean ‘wait and see’ or ‘act now’?” the report said.

An Australian warning system, which would ensure consistent labelling of natural disaster danger across the country, has been in development for six years, which the commission said was too long.

“For such a critical issue, this work has taken too long and is an example of the need for a clear decision-making process and to elevate matters to national leaders where required,” it said.

“The work on the Australian warning system should be finished as a priority.”

The royal commission has previously pushed for the warning system to be expedited, with commissioner Annabelle Bennett labelling the delays “breathtaking”.

It made a similar call for a uniform approach to fire danger ratings, noting danger ratings like “catastrophic” are represented differently across states and territories.

Steps needed to improve bushfires response

The Blue Mountains Gazette reported some early observationsa from the Bushfire Royal Commission.

* Catastrophic fire conditions may become more common, rendering traditional bushfire prediction models and firefighting techniques less effective

* The national cabinet (prime minister and premiers) could be useful to co-ordinate efforts in dealing with bushfires

* There may be benefit in a single, scalable standing body responsible for natural disaster recovery and resilience at the Australian government level

* Work on a national all-hazard warning system should be completed as a priority, as well as a national approach to map-based apps such as Fires Near Me

* Consideration should be given to extra employment protections for volunteers

* The declaration of a “national emergency” should be better defined, with clearer information about how it interacts with state and territory declarations

* A modest, Australian-based aerial firefighting capability may be needed

* The role of the Australian Defence Force in supporting emergency responses needs to be clearer in practical and legal terms

* Better national information systems are needed in terms of climate information, platforms to store and distribute information, tools for managing risk and warning systems

* National consistency is needed for air quality standards

* Evacuation planning and shelter options need clarity, especially when dealing with evacuations across borders and from aged care facilities

* Greater co-ordination is needed to ensure power and telecommunications companies can quickly restore services

* More work is needed to understand how best to manage public and private land, including hazard reduction

* Indigenous land and fire management practices can be better used.

Royal Commission floats COVID-style National Cabinet for bushfires

Small leaves burst forth from a burnt tree after a bush fire. Very shallow dof.

Government News reported that the bushfire royal commission says a COVID-style National Cabinet could play a role in responding to natural disasters in the future.

Mark Binskin

In its interim report handed down on Monday, the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements warns that Australia is likely to experience more frequent and intense natural disasters over the coming decades.

“Australia has a long history of natural disasters and our focus has been on national natural disaster arrangements with a view to examining whether those arrangements are the best they can be,” Royal Commission Chair Mark  Binskin said.

To ensure this, all jurisdictions will have to work with the federal government to coordinate decision making and share resources, the report says.

The report points to the National Cabinet which was established in  March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

NSW Labor wants probe of RFS chief’s raise

Labor wants the NSW premier to investigate RFS chief Rob Rogers' pay rise.

The Northern Daily Leader reported that Labor is calling for an independent investigation into the NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner’s 11 per cent payrise amid a pay freeze for public servants.

RFS chief Rob Rogers had his total annual salary lifted from $403,905 to $450,012 on July 13, the Sun-Herald reports.

Emergency Services Minister David Elliott appointed Mr Rogers as successor to Shane Fitzsimmons that same month, despite being only two months into a 12-month interim role.

Labor treasury spokesman Walt Secord called on Premier Gladys Berejiklian to launch an independent external investigation into the pay increase to ensure it was “necessary and in accordance with all rules and regulations”.

“The move by Minister Elliott is random, extraordinary and premature – especially as the position was on an interim basis and it had 10 more months to run at a much lower pay rate,” he said in a statement on Sunday.

“Minister David Elliott’s decision is a slap to the state’s 410,000 workers, which includes nurses, hospital cleaners, police officers, child protection workers and bus drivers who were all refused their promised 2.5 per cent pay rise by the premier.”

The NSW government is pursuing a pay freeze for public servants through the Industrial Relations Commission.

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