Bushfire season still several weeks away

The National Council for Fire and Emergency Services last week released the spring bushfire outlook. For NSW there is an above normal fire potential for northern New South Wales driven by good grass and crop growth. Below normal fire potential is predicted across the parts of NSW, such as some parts of the Snowy Valleys, that has vegetation recovering from the 2019-20 bushfire season.

The first day of spring brought clear skies and mild temperatures in the low 20s to the Snowy Valleys, heralding a much different bushfire season than the 2019/20 year which still rings in local memory.

The NSW Rural Fire Service has kicked off its Bushfire Danger Period in 27 Local Government Areas, but the Snowy Valleys has not yet been added to the list.

Riverina Highlands District Manager Jon Gregory said local conditions – including a much wetter winter than usual – are still being evaluated, with the danger period likely a few weeks away.

“We’re thinking it’s going to be more of a grass season this year, rather than a forest season, because of it tending to be a La Nina cycle,” he said.

“There’s a lot of moisture – the subsoil moisture’s quite high.”

Mr Gregory said the moisture will likely lead to ‘significant grass growth’ across the region. He urged landowners to stay on top of general property cleanup once the spring growth begnis in earnest.

“Look out for overhanging branches and general cleanup,” he said.

“Keep grass mowed down close around houses. Think about grazing out if you can, if you’ve got small paddocks around the houses in the rural areas as the growth comes along. 

“Our growth hasn’t really started yet, but it won’t be long. Another two or three weeks.”

To keep the Snowy Valleys safe, a hazard mitigation crew was funded by the RFS after the 2019/20 Dunns Road fire, with four full time workers conducting mitigation works around the LGA and assisting property owners through the AIDER program.

“We have the AIDER program for people, particularly aged and infirm,” he said. “It’s a one-off program to help them.”

AIDER stands for Assist Infirm, Disabled and Elderly Residents and provides help with tasks such as: clearing gutters, thinning vegetation around the home, removing leaf and tree debris, trimming branches from close to the home and mowing or slashing long grass.

The service is available just once for every resident in need, but Mr Gregory said those who are struggling with maintaining bushfire safety around their property should still call the local office to see what assistance is available.

Overall, the RFS is anticipating a calmer season than in past years, but Mr Gregory promised they ‘never take our eye off the ball.’

“We’re always doing prep work, making sure we’re operationally ready, but we’re not going to see anything like the 2019/20 season with this season,” he said.

“We’re going around doing our interfaces and asset protection zones on critical infrastructure around the community.”

The RFS is preparing for increased thunderstorm activity this season, associated with the La Nina weather patterns, and has started a new program in the SVC focussing on protecting the northern and western sides of community assets.

“Predominantly that’s where our fire weather comes from. They normally travel from west to east,” he said.

The local office is also currently seeking a full time general hand to add to their staff.