WWF report finds 71pc decline in koala numbers across northern NSW bushfire-affected areas
The ABC reported that a study released today shows a 71 per cent decline in koala populations across six locations in northern NSW, burned in last season’s bushfires.
The study was commissioned by the WWF (previously known as World Wildlife Fund) for Nature Australia and chief executive Dermot O’Gorman said the findings are devastating.
“Seventy-one per cent is a massive figure; three-quarters of the population in these areas have been hit by the fires and lost,” he said.
Specialist koala ecologist Stephen Phillips undertook the study, which he said was the first study to quantify the impact of the bushfires on koala populations.
It compares population data collected before the bushfires to data collected following the fires.
“We’ve now got the tools [so] we can find these populations and we really have to wrap them in cotton wool,” he said.
“If we don’t and we just proceed with our normal activities, whether it’s logging or development in peri-urban areas, and we’re having direct impacts on the relic koala populations, then we could simply be exacerbating the problems for these remaining populations.”
Glow worms in Wollemi National Park survived Gospers Mountain bushfire
It’s like something out of a sci-fi movie — an ancient species of bug, glowing on the roof of an abandoned railway tunnel, deep in a remote forest.
And locals could not be happier to see them.
The colony of glow worms in the Wollemi National Park, just a couple of hours north-west of Sydney, was thought to have been destroyed when a bushfire ravaged the area last summer.
The area has been off-limits due to bushfires and heavy rain before the coronavirus pandemic meant NSW’s national parks were closed.
Local tourism operator Kristie Kearney was among the first people to return to the tunnel and was relieved to find the creatures safe inside.
“It’s nature’s Milky Way. It is a celestial experience,” she said.
“It’s as if you are looking out into the night sky, no moon, and all you see is just these millions of stars on the ceiling.”
Read the full ABC report here.
Backburn threatened Upper Mountains
The Blue Mountains Gazette reported that a group of experienced bushfire experts wants answers about how a backburn at Mount Wilson last December got out of control and eventually burnt homes in the Upper Mountains.
The NSW RFS has investigated the December 14 burn and found that, while the weather forecast was initially favourable, the humidity dropped and the wind changed, blowing embers back behind the firefighters.
Inspector Ben Shepherd said: “Introducing a backburn is never a zero risk but it is done in agreement with planning and operations officers. Of course, there was local knowledge as well,” he said, including from the captain of the local RFS.
“It was unfortunate that it did escalate but … it was the right strategy and the right time to implement that burn.”
But the Independent Bushfire Group, a newly formed organisation of former bushfire managers with more than 400 years of experience between them, believes there are questions still to be answered.
Ian Brown, who worked in national park management for over 20 years and has managed bushfire programs across the Blue Mountains parks system, said: “The weather was already threatening at 10 o’clock when the burn was lit, so we need to see the investigation report with full details of how that decision was made, and the special fire weather forecast for that location on that morning.
“Eight months after it happened, the impacted communities and firefighters deserve nothing less than a full explanation.”
The NSW bushfire inquiry report released a fortnight ago found that conditions on the day “rapidly deteriorated” when the wind changed.
A week later, it threatened (and destroyed) properties in Bilpin, Kurrajong Heights, Bell, Mt Victoria and Blackheath.
Mr Brown said the Bushfire Group recognised that in firefighting “things can always go wrong. The important thing is to learn from them and go foward with better processes.”
Inspector Shepherd said there were “thousands of backburns done last season and only a handful ended up escaping”.
RFS helps communities to Get Ready for summer bushfires
The Southern Highlands News reported that the fire season starts at the end of this month, and the region’s fire brigades are helping locals to prepare for summer.
Every year, the NSW Rural Fire Service holds a Get Ready Weekend on September 19 and 20 – described as an opportunity to engage with your local brigade, find out about the bush fire risk in your area, and to plan and prepare for the coming bush fire season.
“It is really designed so that people will go home with a change in their behaviour,” RFS safety community officer Inspector David Stimson said. “We hope that they will now accept that there is a risk where they live, and that they need to do something to mitigate that personal risk to them and their property.”
Many brigades run fire station events or discuss fire plans with residents. They open their doors to the public; invite the local community in to meet the firefighters and look at the equipment; and host a sausage sizzle, Inspector Stimson explained. Most importantly, crews can speak to the brigade about what they should do leading up to the high peak of the fire season.
For information about events near you, visit http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/news-and-media/getready.
The Canyonleigh RFS will hold a community training day on Saturday, September 12, in their Fire Shed from 9am to 4pm.
“We invite a limited number of residents to come and hear about fires, what they do, and we actually give them experience on how to put out spot fires with water and without,” brigade secretary Terry Biscoe said.
The day will provide information on fire behaviour, understanding human nature in times of crisis, how to prepare mentally and physically, property preparation, bush fire survival plans, and understanding the fire danger rating. Places are limited; call Frances on 0417 262 564 to book.
Canyonleigh residents can also talk to the brigade about their fire plans and fire safety at the Get Ready Weekend on September 19 and 20.
The Hill Top RFS will be open on September 19 from 10am to 2pm.Crew members also open the station doors every Saturday morning for anyone from the community to come in and ask questions or just have a cuppa, senior deputy captain Michelle Coates said.
“We have never been overwhelmed with community participation,” Ms Coates said; “this year might be different, but our thoughts are even if you to speak one person only, then that’s a success.”
This year, however, COVID restrictions are causing issues with face-to-face meetings and station openings, Inspector Stimson said. Many brigades have decided not to open, because controlling the influx of people coming throughout the day and keeping them within COVID guidelines is difficult. Instead, many brigades have moved their Get Ready Day online, using Facebook or websites.
“Some are innovative and informative at the same time, and most of them are inviting any questions that people might have or advice they are seeking,” Inspector Stimson said. “They are adapting and overcoming to make sure they can give very important messages and advice to our communities.”
The Wingello RFB are running a virtual Get Ready month since mid-August, providing information and suggestions for the public to start preparing their property.https://www.facebook.com/v3.2/plugins/post.php?app_id=&channel=https%3A%2F%2Fstaticxx.facebook.com%2Fx%2Fconnect%2Fxd_arbiter%2F%3Fversion%3D46%23cb%3Df144edb448904ac%26domain%3Dwww.southernhighlandnews.com.au%26origin%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.southernhighlandnews.com.au%252Fff54627014ca2c%26relation%3Dparent.parent&container_width=0&href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FWingelloRuralFireBrigade%2Fposts%2F3748474338514644&locale=en_US&sdk=joey&width=350
The Burrawang Rural Fire Brigade are particularly smart, Inspector Stimson said; they have launched a new website (https://burrawangrfb.org/), with a four-week challenge to Get Ready before bushfire season.
“At the end of the day, all our volunteers are doing the best they possibly can for their individual communities,” Inspector Stimson said.
This week marked the start of the 2020/21 bushfire season for Singleton and Muswellbrook LGAs
The Muswellbrook Chronicle reported that the Bureau of Meteorology’s (BOM) weather prediction for this coming spring could not be in starker contrast to this time in 2019.
Twelve months ago the seasonal outlook was dire with drought combining with higher temperatures to make the entire region and state tinder dry and at risk of catastrophic fires.
And that is certainly what we got with 33 lives lost nationally along with 3000 homes leaving thousands homeless, billions of native animals burnt to death and the air pollution reported to have killed more than 400 people.
According to the BOM spring 2020 is expected to be wetter than average across much of eastern Australia thanks to high chance (rated at 70 per cent) of the arrival of La Nina – this is a weather system noted for its higher rainfall in contrast to the lower rainfall drought inflciting El Nino.
“That outlook really pleases us,” said Inspector Ken Hepplewhite, NSW Rural Fire Service -Hunter Valley located at Bulga.
“But in saying that we don’t want people to think we aren’t still at risk from bushfires.
“The 2020/21 bushfire season started on Tuesday and we are hopeful of an easier time this year but we all have to remain vigilant and have our bushfire plan at the ready.”
The biggest risk at present, due to good autumn and winter rainfall, is grassfires.
“Last week we had a couple of good frosts and that has dried out the grasses and the fact we haven’t had rain for a couple of weeks. So once the we start to get some warmer days the chance of grassfires increases,” Insp. Hepplewhite said.
Federal Minister for Emergency Management David Littleproud said all Australians, especially in the high-risk areas, should now be preparing to protect their family and property against bushfires.
“While communities across Australia are continuing to recover and rebuild from the horrific 2019-20 bushfire season, the next challenge is to make sure we are all prepared for the risks facing us over the coming summer,” Minister Littleproud said.
“In the south-east of the country, experts are warning of potentially hazardous grassland fires due to above average levels of growth brought on by wetter than average conditions expected through spring.
“While we can work with authorities to properly prepare, it’s also critical families, households and individuals do what they can to prepare themselves.
“Talk to your neighbours, ask them about their evacuation plan and let them know about your plan. People wanting more information on how to plan and prepare, should contact their local fire service.”
From September 1 landholders will require a permit to carry-out any burning off to clean up properties.
Insp. Hepplewhite said the RFS had received an increase in the number of people seeking permits and it should be remembered people are allowed to burn-off. “We have been called out recently to attend approved fires that people were worried about,” he said.
In the next six weeks hazard reduction burns will take place locally on the Singleton Infantry base – army range weather permitting.
Grants to help businesses recover after Black Summer fires
About Regional reported that small to medium businesses in the Eurobodalla impacted by the Black Summer bushfires can now apply for grants of up to $5000.
With $200,000 of Federal Government disaster recovery funding, Eurobodalla Shire Council’s Business Resilience Grants program can be used for business marketing support, online and e-commerce development, business expansion, efficiency and growth, business development, and business-based events.
Phase two of the Eurobodalla Disaster Relief Fund has also been extended to offer grants of up to $10,000 to community associations and business chambers for projects and events that celebrate, re-invigorate and strengthen local communities.
Businesses who apply for the Eurobodalla Relief Fund grants need to show how their project or event will focus on bushfire recovery.
Recent grant recipients include the River of Art, which collaborated with three local chambers of commerce and the Narooma Oyster Festival to provide permanent public art murals in Batemans Bay, Moruya and Narooma. Each of the murals will reflect this year’s festival theme, resilience and renewal. A list of phase one grants recipients is on the Eurobodalla Shire Council’s Disaster Relief Fund webpage.
Applications for both grant programs close at 5pm on 30 September, 2020.
Businesses who would like help with their grant application can contact the newly-opened Eurobodalla Bushfire Recovery Support Service by phone on 4474 7434, email or visiting the shopfront in Vulcan Street, Moruya, next to Moruya Pharmacy.
Australians should be retrained for aerial bushfire missions, pilots’ federation says
The Canberra Times reported that
Australian pilots should start training to work on aerial firefighting missions to boost the country’s capacity to tackle bushfires and reduce the need to bring in overseas pilots, the Australian Federation of Air Pilots says.
The federation’s president, Captain Louise Pole, said the federal government should own and operate an Australian-based fleet of aerial firefighting craft.
Captain Pole said it would take only a minimal retraining effort to get Australian pilots into firefighting aircraft.
“Based on the fact the government hasn’t already got a plan in place for the firefighting, we wouldn’t be able to get everybody and aircraft ready for this summer, but it wouldn’t take much longer after that to be able to get these pilots trained into these roles,” Captain Pole said.
She said federal and state contracts to bring firefighting aircraft into the country should in future stipulate the need for Australian pilots.
“The government needs to have contracts that require these aircraft [to be] operated by Australian pilots when they’re working in Australia. We believe the government should go to having Australian registered aircraft doing the work as well,” Captain Pole said.
“I guarantee there are hundreds out there who would be willing to do the job and protect their country and environment and be very proud to do that for Australia.”
The coronavirus pandemic has forced many pilots out of work, with less air traffic as a result of movement restrictions. Captain Pole said the pilots’ federation represented at least 500 pilots currently looking for work.
Emergency leaders are increasingly concerned the overlap between the northern and southern hemisphere fire seasons will get bigger, making it harder for Australia to rely on American-based aircraft and crew when bushfires start early in the season.
The bushfire royal commission has suggested in a draft proposition that both federal and state and territory governments should secure a sovereign aerial firefighting capability “of sufficient size and versatility to meet national needs”.
However, Coulson Aviation, the Canadian company which has long-term contracts to provide aerial firefighting support in Australia, believes its pilots, which work year round in both hemispheres, are better suited to the job.
The company is investigating whether its pilots could move to Australia with their families for the entire fire season in an effort to contend with international COVID-19 quarantine requirements.
Coulson Aviation owner and chief executive Wayne Coulson said the company’s current NSW contract was about knowledge transfer, but the edge his company brought to aerial firefighting was its year-round experience.
Mr Coulson said there was significant pressure on aerial firefighters in Australia to perform, and pilots who worked year-round on firefighting missions had better long-term training opportunities.
“[In Australia] you have limited resources and it’s a big country, and, a lot of days, you get one shot to stop that fire, and if you don’t get it, it’s going to be significant damage done and lives are at risk,” Mr Coulson said.
Mr Coulson said the overlap of the northern and southern hemisphere fire seasons meant it was already harder to guarantee aircraft would be available in Australia in time for early season bushfires.
Ellerslie farmer scathing of bushfire response
The Tumut And Adelong Times reported that discontented murmerings coming from the regions first hit by the Dunns Road fire have been voiced in one resident’s submission to the NSW Bushfire Inquiry.
Many neighbours of the private Takajo pine plantation say the fire could have been stopped in its tracks – and would have been – if local knowledge and a sense of urgency had been employed.
Andrea Tulloch lives in one of those properties, directly bordering the Ellerslie Nature Reserve for close to five kilometres.
“Our experience of the fire was a frustrating one,” she wrote to the Inquiry. “We were threatened and burnt with spot fires on our farm between Saturday December 28, 2019 and January 3 2020.
“It became a battle not only with the fire but with the RFS and NPWS. We were burnt out to 95 per cent on January 4. What wasn’t burnt out was finished off on Friday, January 10, 2020.”
Ms Tulloch’s property was devastated by the fires, and she said the devastation could have and should have been prevented.
“Our neighbour [name withheld] rang the RFS and asked them to check for a fire at approximately 8am on the Saturday morning [December 28]. It had been smoky all week due to all the fires in NSW so it was hard to get a clear picture. We could smell pine in the smoke for the first time all week.
“There was no call raised until closer to midday whereby the fire had spread quickly in the pines. We don’t know what happened with the RFS and towers for the ensuing four hour period. It quickly spotted onto our back paddock and spread into the National Park on the first night.”
From there, Ms Tulloch wrote that the fire spread to the south and all efforts were put along the southern line, while containment lines were started in the north, but not completed. From there, she said the blaze “was effectively left to burn in the Ellerslie Nature Reserve until close to New Years Eve.”
She referenced a picture of her husband in one solitary vehicle on the ridge at the northern edge of their property, which was continuously under threat.
“Firebreaks were burnt on the boundary of our property as the impending weather was coming. There was no way that they were then going to be able to contain the fire front that extended 5km on our boundary.
“Our property was going to effectively be used as a fire break for the northern end when the wind change was due.”
Ms Tulloch writes that the backburn was done without consulting locals, and she and her family “begged them not to use the Yaven Creek as a firebreak,” saying it was “too steep and scrubby.”
She said the backburn was too far away from the fire to be effective, but the input of locals was disregarded and the area was burnt.
“We believe it was from here that we were burnt out.”
The fire continued its rampage throughout the week, infamously reaching Batlow on January 4, and striking Ms Tulloch’s property the same day, spotting in several directions into her family’s paddocks from the national park. At that time, Ellerslie locals had been fighting the fire on their doorstep for a full week.
“It burnt out our property of 3100 acres in a short time,” she wrote. “It burnt through to Adelong destroying four homes and upwards of 23 properties including stock and quality farm land.”
Ms Tulloch said they were finished off on January 10 and still blacking out trees through the Australia Day weekend, two weeks later.
“It was a long physically and emotionally taxing time. We lost 97 per cent of our land, our fences, some stock and infrastructure such as hay sheds.
“We lost our fodder reserves including silage, hay and straw that was budgeted to last to June for our autumn/winter seasonal weather break.
“We lost trees that were hundreds of years old that will never be regrown in our lifetime. My husband and his cousins saved our homes.”
In the aftermath, Ms Tulloch said she has witnessed dramatically different attitudes towards those who lost homes and those who lost livelihoods. While she’s seen plenty of assistance for those who lost their homes, and significant assistance from the government for farmers, she said there needs to be more to help primary producers recover their losses. She wrote that the government grants only covered half of their fodder bills, without touching the cost of stock fencing or the emotional, financial and physical toll of losing a livelihood.
“We feel that losing a livelihood is just as bad if not worse,” she wrote.
“If we could have had a choice between losing the farm or our home we would choose our home because the loss to our farm can’t be accounted for: how do you calculate the loss of ground cover which is feed but also landscape care?”
Along with the personal loss, Ms Tulloch highlighted the environmental loss of pastureland and trees which offset carbon emissions and were “stripped needlessly bare with the fire that could have been contained.”
The family is now struggling with ongoing weed issues due to the stripping of the cover.
“The ongoing cost is immeasurable and is not easily fixed in the foreseen future,” she wrote.
“We have to replace fencing, clean dams and regrow woodlands for protection for the landscape and stock. These are issues of global significance if we can recreate a healthy farm environment it will help environmental issues as well as grow food. We are primary producers.”
Looking to the future, Ms Tulloch pointed out the responsibility landholders take to defend their country. She said private forests, National Parks and the RFS must do the same.
She wrote a list of proposed mandates for each agency and concluded:
“Ultimately we were burnt and without further ado we never heard from either authority regarding the outcomes of their decisions. We have tried to discuss the issues with the parks and RFS but there is no recourse for us except in inquiries like this one.”
No early start to bush fire season in Mid-Western Region, perfect time to ‘Get Ready’
The Mudgee Guardian reported that for the first time in a number of years the Mid-Western Region local government area won’t need to commence the Bush Fire Danger Period a month early, due to cooler temperatures and recent rainfall.
Favourable conditions also saw the last season finish at the end of March with no need for an extension, thanks to a remarkable turnaround from a summer when hundreds of thousands of hectares burned.
The statutory Bush Fire Danger Period in NSW commences on October 1 each year, but is adjusted based on local conditions.
And for some time now, the Cudgegong Rural Fire Service District – which covers the Mid-Western Regional LGA – has begun in September.
“For the five years I’ve been here we’ve had to go early and this will be the first year that will be going ahead as normal on October 1,” Cudgegong District Superintendent Troy Porter said.
“With the rainfall we’ve had and the green growth has put a fair dent in the drought and we’re certainly in a better place this year than at the same time last year.
Get prepared for bushfire season on Get Ready Weekend
The Macarthur Advertiser is reporting that Wollondilly Council is encouraging shire residents to use the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS)’s Get Ready Weekend to prepare for the bushfire season.
The event held on September 19 and 20 aims to raise awareness and help residents prepare for emergencies.
Wollondilly mayor Matthew Deeth said last year’s fire season was a “stark reminder of the danger of fire”.
“The 2019/20 bushfire season was the most devastating bushfire season in our state’s history,” he said.
“It was also a reminder of the importance of being prepared and having a plan.
“In the lead up to our next fire season – with the previous one in the not so distant past and the impacts still being felt across NSW – communities are understandably keen to know more about getting ready.”
Residents are also being encouraged to follow their local RFS brigade’s Facebook page for information.
Resilience NSW commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons wants everyone to have a conversation around being prepared for emergency, whatever the hazard may be.
“Each year, communities across NSW may experience bushfires, home fires, floods, storms, heatwaves, power outages and other emergencies,” he said.
“This year alone has been one of unparalleled emergencies.
“Communities across NSW were first impacted by drought, bushfire, then storm and flood, now pandemic – and all in quick succession.
“This has highlighted how important it is to be prepared for all hazards.
“Our emergency service organisations do an incredible job keeping us safe, but they can only do so much.
“Being aware and prepared is everyone’s responsibility.”
100 Dyson vacuums donated to bushfire-affected residents across Bega Valley
The Bega District News reported that a round of donations will give Bega Valley residents affected by the summer’s bushfires a hand when it comes to keeping their temporary accommodation clean and tidy.
Working with the Bega-based Sapphire Community Pantry, the national online charity GIVIT has coordinated the donation of 100 Dyson vacuums to residents in Bemboka, Eden, Cobargo, Quaama, Bega and Wyndham.
Sapphire Community Pantry president Christine Welsh said after she received the first donation of vacuums she reached out to temporarily Bega-based people who had lost their homes in the bushfires.
She said “five minutes later two had gone”, including to Caroline Long who also took one to give to another woman who had lost her home in the fires.
“Caroline was so chuffed to receive the vacuum,” Ms Welsh said.
“She has five dogs who shed a lot, and she used to have a Dyson which, along with all of her possessions, went up in smoke.
“She’s still living in temporary accommodation, but has just had a container delivered to her block which will be repurposed to become her new house.”
She said another vacuum went to Letitia, a mother of six kids who are living in a leaky caravan and tent in Bega because their house burnt down.
“Letitia was so very grateful for the vacuum cleaner,” Ms Welsh said.
“She said she has never had a decent vacuum, and a Dyson was something that she thought she could never afford!”
This is the latest GIVIT-coordinated donation for the Bega Valley where it has focused its bushfire relief support.
GIVIT NSW regional manager Caroline Odgers said GIVIT’s key focus was to continue to engage its network of donors to ensure no resident or bushfire-affected community is forgotten.
“Recovery is a long process. GIVIT’s service is a crucial component of recovery to ensure communities, charities and local business are supported long term,” she said.
“While we love providing large items like beds, fridges and replacement equipment for farmers, some bushfire-affected communities are still in the clean-up stage.
“That’s why donations of generators, grocery vouchers and simple hardware tools are still so important.”
Thirty of the vacuums were donated to Cobargo, 20 each to Quaama, Wyndham and Eden, and five each to Bega and Bemboka.
Bellingen Council To Offer Bushfire Funding To The Community – Mayor Of Bellingen Shire Council
News of the Area reported that Bellingen Council has been fortunate to receive funding from the Federal Government’s Disaster Recovery and Resilience Program in response to the devastating bush fires from last season.
As part of a broader program of work, Council is looking to support projects and activities that plan for, respond to and build resilience with regards to bush fires and other natural disasters through a series of grant programs.
Information drop-in sessions will take place to help inform the community of the grant programs, what they may be able to apply for and how to apply.
The bush fires that occurred over the last spring/summer season impacted on the whole Shire in one way or another and we are still seeing the effects of it.
This, along with the current pandemic, has seen the Shire have to contend with a lot. This funding will help support our community in preparing for this bush fire season and build a stronger more resilient community.
Council will offer three grant streams that will be open to businesses, individuals and community organisations.
Anyone interested in applying is strongly encouraged to attend a community information session:
- Dorrigo Community Hall Monday 7 September 11.00am
- Thora Hall Monday 7 September 2.00pm
- Urunga Literary Hall Monday 14 September 9.30am
- Mylestom Hall Monday 14 September 12.30pm
- Bellingen Citizens Centre Wednesday 16 September 10.00am
- Kalang Hall Wednesday 16 September 2.00pm
Additional information sessions are being prepared for Megan and Bostobrick communities. Further details will be provided via Council’s Create page www.create.bellingen.nsw.gov.au
RFS captains say added bureaucracy could lead to missed opportunities
The Blue Mountains Gazette reported that one of the key recommendations made in the NSW Bushfire inquiry, was that fire agencies make a priority of suppressing new fire ignitions as fast as possible.
This was welcomed by local Rural Fire Service crews on the ground, but there was concern that this aspiration would be hindered by the amount of bureaucratic structures being put in place following the inquiry.
Captain of the Bombay RFS, near Braidwood, NSW, and NSW Farmers Rural Affairs Committee chairman, Garry Grant said many volunteer firefighters and landholders wanted to see more decision-making on the ground with local knowledge.
“The local knowledge was acknowledged in the inquiry, but the recommendations seem to be more about centralising decision making and therefore removing it another step from what’s going on,” he said.
Mr Grant said the North Black Range fire, which burnt to the west of Braidwood last summer, may be the subject of a coronial investigation, which would consider whether there was a missed opportunity to get on top of the fire early.
“They’ve gathered evidence from those volunteers who were there on the first day of the fire, because there is the view that more could have been done then when the fire was small,” Mr Grant said.
“Certainly there were a lot of RFS capacity there that wasn’t utilised.”
Local knowledge should be used when back burning
Bombay RFS deputy captain, Mick McGrath agreed saying some of the recommendations were the antithesis of local engagement.
“One of the recommendations that sticks out is that for back burning for conditions classified above ‘high’, there would need to be an independent review completed in Sydney,” Mr McGrath said.
“I understand there were scenarios during the bushfire season where back burning went wrong, but the problem we face is we have bureaucrats making the decisions and if we slow the process down you will miss the opportunity.”
“Conditions including wind speeds and direction on the fire ground locally can be vastly different to those forecast generally.
“Successful back burning outcomes are more likely to be achieved where local knowledge from both senior volunteers and other experienced locals is taken into account and this should be mandatory. “
He also argued that local fire fighting knowledge would be lost if more control was taken away from local captains.
“You can’t have people swanning in and saying ‘we’re here to fix this problem for you, without knowing what the problem is,” Mr McGrath said.
Section 44 conundrum
Mr McGrath also raised the conundrum of Section 44 (when the RFS Commissioner declares a localised State of Emergency).
Explaining that while an early attack was absolutely essential, resources to fight the fire come out of the local area’s budget until a Section 44 is called.
“So you’re in this catch 22, where the fire is let go until it becomes a Section 44,” Mr McGrath said.
“The reality is if you’re really trying to protect the community, you would have all your resources to put on the fire from the outset.”
Mongarlowe RFS captain Paul Bott addressing a community meeting at the Mongarlowe fire shed on December 4. Photo: Supplied.
Mongarlowe ‘mozzies’ critical
The NSW Bushfire Inquiry found farmers and landholders provided “invaluable” assistance to the Rural Fire Service during the bushfire crisis.
The inquiry stated farmers, often referred to as ‘mozzies’ for their ability to swarm neighbours’ properties and assist, were “a critical part of the fire fighting effort, and an important partner in managing and responding to the threat of fire”.
The small town of Mongarlowe, to the east of Braidwood, was referenced as an example.
Mongarlowe was threatened by the Currowan fire in late 2019 and early 2020.
At the time, most resources were focused on fighting the fire’s eastern flank, which was threatening populated towns on the coast, and the Mongarlowe RFS was left with only two fire trucks to defend its town.
Mongarlowe RFS captain Paul Bott said another complication was that during the Currowan fire threat they were working under the Shoalhaven Fire Control located on the coast, instead of the closer Lake George Fire Control.
“We were even more remote to Shoalhaven and initially when the fire first came over the range, we felt very much left to our own resources,” Mr Bott said.
“National Parks were providing four to five Landcruiser units, but that was it, and it was a very long fire front.”
The Currowan fire burnt over the Budawang range, threatening Mongarlowe. Photo: Supplied
There were also the communication blackspots to contend with.
“Both telecommunications and radio communications should seriously be looked at,” Mr Bott said.
“We’re only 100km from the national capital and more than half of the Mongarlowe area is in blackspot.”
Mr Bott said they simply couldn’t have done it without the mozzies.
“They were exceptional, they were there to help and they had a great attitude so it was very welcomed,” he said.
However, the inquiry cautioned that community members must have comprehensive knowledge of fire behaviour in these circumstances, so they present as a help, not a hindrance, to fire authorities.
They also recommended that NSW RFS emphasises the importance of local landholders using protective clothing while fire fighting.
Mr Bott said he thought increasing knowledge was always beneficial and noted that several of the Mongarlowe mozzies had actually signed up to the brigade since the fires.
Night shift emphasis to avoid missed opportunities
Mr Bott said if they had to face a fire season like that again he would like to see an improvement in equipment for quick response units and more emphasis put on night shifts.
“In the scheme of things it was bigger than anyone imagined, but one thing that came out of the inquiry which was good to see was the night crews,” Mr Bott said.
“We were well short on night crews, that was a reflection on resources of course, but I think we have to put greater emphasis on the night crews as being equally important as the day crews, because there were a couple of missed opportunities.”
Eurobodalla Shire Mayor Liz Innes responds to bushfire inquiry
Narooma News Online reported that the NSW Government should fund its bushfire inquiry recommendations – and ratepayers should not bear any further cost, Eurobodalla Shire Mayor Liz Innes says.
The state should also fund the immediate construction of a shire emergency services precinct to replace the “outdated” Moruya Fire Control Centre.
The mayor’s statements follow the release of 76 recommendations in late August.
“The NSW Bushfire Inquiry recommendations are a mixed bag, and my big worry is who pays,” Cr Innes said in a statement released on September 3.
Cr Innes said the inquiry confirmed more firestorms of the type experienced last summer were likely.
“I’m pleased to see some of Eurobodalla Council’s key recommendations – improving the resilience of telecommunications, power and roads, and reviewing vegetation clearing policies to reduce complexity and cost – were adopted,” she said.
“My big concern is the clear expectation that local councils will have to shoulder more of the burden, when we simply do not have the resources to do more.
“Rates would have to go up, and that is not acceptable.”
Black Summer brought tough lessons.
“These lessons need to be shared and the minister should hear our experiences first hand,” Cr Innes said.
“I invite the NSW Emergency Services Minister David Elliot to visit Eurobodalla.
“The NSW Government must cost the recommendations and must identify who will pay. Otherwise these are a set of recommendations going nowhere.”
Cr Innes said the NSW Government could bring “real reform, including better integrating emergency service agencies and infrastructure”.
“If the Minister visits, I look forward to showing him our outdated fire-control centre in Moruya, and the hall and four plastic tubs we ran our emergency operations centre from,” Cr Innes said.
“The NSW Government has previously shown support for a new regional integrated emergency service precinct in Moruya so we have decent facilities for the RFS, SES, NSW Fire and Rescue, Ambulance Service and an Emergency Operations Centre.
“This type of infrastructure should be funded by the government instead of pushing the burden to local ratepayers.
“We have been advocating for more than five years now. It really is time the government got this emergency services precinct built for our community.
“We’re also calling for the positions of Local Emergency Management Officers (LEMOs) to be moved to the NSW emergency services agencies as full-time professional roles.
“Our Council LEMOs did an amazing job last summer, but we are expecting our staff, who already have full-time jobs, to tackle the emergency services function on top of that.
“This is not a resilient solution for the future.
“Our officers are needed to manage our roads, bridges, and water and sewer systems during disasters.”
Clr Innes said she had listened to many concerns from local land owners regarding the assertion the RFS would be given rights to enter properties and clear land or conduct burns if land owners failed to.
“This is unpalatable for most landowners and the details absolutely need to be worked through,” she said.
“And the expectation that councils could inspect and enforce private property compliance to bushfire standards is unrealistic.
“That is not and should not be our job.
“There also needs to be more hazard reduction and management of fuel loads in national parks and state forests.
“I know how it feels to sit and wait for fire to roar through unprepared government-owned land toward your home. That has to change.”
Clr Innes welcomed recommendations to pursue better air firefighting support, improve training for government personnel and volunteers running evacuation centres, and integrating fire control and emergency operations centre.
‘Go over your plan from last year and reassess’: RFS urges preparedness on South Coast
About Regional reported that winter is officially over and from 1 September landowners are obliged to apply for a permit to burn on their land.
Right on cue, the Far South Coast saw its first warm, windy day last weekend, with temperatures in the high 20s and a north-westerly reminder that bush fire season is here.
For many of us, it feels too soon after last year’s catastrophic fires to be thinking about being prepared but the NSW Rural Fire Service’s District Manager, Superintendent John Cullen, wants to remind us now is not the time to be complacent.
“Go back over your plan from last year and look at what worked well and how you can fix the things that didn’t work so well,” he said.
“Things like communication. Water supply. Defendable space. Leaving early.”
Mr Cullen says there’s been a larger than average increase in volunteers after last summer’s fires and he and his team have been busy training them while simultaneously adapting to COVID-19 restrictions.
Being in a state of crisis all year following fires and a pandemic has caused exhaustion and made people less likely to rationally prepare for the upcoming season, according to Kathleen McCann of Tanja, who volunteers with her local RFS.
“That warm wind from the north-west is a trigger for all of us, it’s normally a January-February wind,” she says.
“We’re living in a culture of forgetfulness, moving from one crisis to the next, it’s a bit goldfishy.”
The things we’re not talking about include the impacts of farming and mining on the land and the effects of climate change on fire behaviour, Kathleen says.
While she says she’s feeling confident about the coming season because there’s moisture in the soil and the dams are full, Kathleen acknowledges that a month of hot winds would soon see her confidence evaporate.
“Wind dries things more than the sun does, and as our climate changes it’s getting harder to predict when the winds will come,” she says.
Over 60 per cent of the district burnt last year and Mr Cullen says some bushland burnt so severely he’s not sure it will come back, but he says that doesn’t mean we won’t have fires this year.
“We’ve got good soil moisture but the wet also encourages growth, making grassfires more likely to move fast when they start, especially when the grass has been bleached by frosts,” he explains.
When preparing for the upcoming season, a battery-powered radio and headlamp and extra batteries can make a big difference, as well as having a list of things to take if you have to evacuate, Mr Cullen says.
“We’ve learnt from last year that communities that work together and help each other can save whole streets. Now is the time to make a phone tree and check on your vulnerable neighbours, such as the ill or elderly, to see what their plan is in a fire.”
You can make your property easier for RFS firefighters to defend by making sure there’s plenty of room for a truck to get in and around your house, he says.
“Look at your gates: are they wide enough to get a truck through? Do you have vegetation close to your house? Get yourself some defendable space around your assets and make sure that firefighting appliances have the best chance of getting to them,” he advises.
“Access is critical, not just for us but for all emergency services.”
Sven Helland of Bega has taken last year’s fires as a warning and says he has been preparing his rural acreage all winter.
“We are feeling substantially better than this time last year after doing the preparations,” he says. “We’ve still got lots of jobs to be done but we’re not feeling overwhelmed by the list.”
Being unprepared and under stress is the situation we want to avoid, Mr Cullen says, urging us all to turn our fears into action.
“People have had a very stressful time after last year, many of our local brigades have been personally impacted by fire but not being prepared brings stress as well.
“We had a worst-case scenario last year but we don’t want to drop our guard. We’ve got to keep planning and preparing and continue to improve.”
If you’re not sure what you need to do to be ready for fire season, talk to your local brigade and seek advice, Mr Cullen says.
Girringun Aboriginal rangers conduct first women-only controlled burn to protect mahogany glider
The ABC reported that Cindy-Lou Togo has been working as a ranger for 10 years but had never done a controlled burn with a crew of only women until now.
Five female rangers from the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation in north Queensland conducted a cool burn at Cardwell last month to reduce fuel loads and help conserve the endangered mahogany glider.
Ms Togo said the women had previously only carried out burns with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service or male rangers from their group.
“This was the very first one with just us girls,” she said.
“One of the girls, she stepped up into the role of being the incident controller of the fire and she was really nervous, but we did really well and I’m proud of the girls.
“I’d like to see our women rangers do more cool burns by themselves. It’d be a good opportunity to give some of the girls more hands-on experience and more responsibility.”
Ms Togo, who has seven children and four grandchildren, became a ranger when she was 40 years old and said it was great more women had joined the group.
“I enjoy it. I like being out on country, I like learning from the elders, and I like passing on the knowledge that I’d learnt onto the younger generation,” she said.
“Now I have a chainsaw licence, a drone licence, a Certificate III in Conservation and Land Management, a coxswain ticket and more. We visit schools and correctional centres to show there’s a pathway.
“It’s very rewarding and I’m sure the elders would love to see the younger generation ladies step up into being a ranger.”
The Queensland Government said about 80 Indigenous women were thought to be working as rangers in the state, and the Queensland Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger Program was helping First Nations organisations employ 100 rangers, with women filling 21.5 full-time equivalent positions.
40 hazard reduction burns on the priority list
The Coast Community News reported that bushland around Mardi Dam is the next location for bushfire hazard reduction following a controlled burn by the Rural Fire Service at Tuggerah on Saturday and Sunday, August 29 and 30.
Crews from five local rural fire brigades took advantage of favourable weather conditions to conduct a hazard reduction burn at Tuggerah.
Rural Fire Service Central Coast District Manager, Superintendent Viki Campbell, said there was about 7ha of bushland in the controlled burn at the rear of Tuggerah Public School, between Fowler Rd, Pacific Highway, Hillview Cres, Tambelin St and Arunta Rd.
“We were really happy with the way that went, the conditions were perfect, and crews have been doing follow-up patrols of the area,” she said.
Rural Fire Service brigades from Tuggerah, Berkeley Vale, Warnervale, Ourimbah and Brisbane Water conducted the Tuggerah burn, and other crews across the Central Coast attended controlled burns at Somersby, Lake Macquarie and Hornsby.
Firefighters were called to a bushfire at the end of Yurunga Ave, San Remo, on Saturday afternoon, August 29, which was not part of the hazard reduction exercise.
Superintendent Campbell said the fire put up a lot of smoke and was quite visible with many people thinking it was part of the hazard reduction burn.
“The fire wasn’t “running” but sufficiently big enough that crews had to take it out to fire trail containment lines and it finished up being about 3ha in size, all up.
“The cause of the fire is unknown and Fire Investigation was out there on Monday looking for possible causes and Police have also been notified,” Superintendent Campbell said.
More hazard reduction burns are being done during this week at Holgate and nine hectares around Mardi Dam.
“Protecting our water assets, such as Mardi Dam and Mangrove Creek Dam catchment, is very important so they are a priority,” Superintendent Campbell said.
She said hazard reduction burns had been hampered over Autumn and most of Winter due to the intermittent rain.
“It’s incredibly limiting and we haven’t been able to get as many done as we would have liked by this time of the year.
“But we’ve got a window of opportunity with favourable weather at the moment, so we’re trying to do as many burns as we can.
“The District has about 40 burns on the priority list in our Plan of Works for the year and they are shared across all the fire agencies such as National Parks, Forestry, Fire Rescue and the Rural Fire Service.
“We all chip in and do our bit.”