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‘There’s still a lot of risk’: Wet weather hampers hazard reduction burns

Traditionally, the RFS undertakes almost 56 per cent of hazard reduction burning in autumn and 23 per cent in spring.

While it is still three months from the statutory start of the bushfire danger period, the RFS warns this fire season poses different perils from the last one. This year’s main danger, rather than from widespread forest fires, is more likely to come from grassfires.

While parts of the state have seen wetter conditions, the RFS says the coming fire season poses problems.

While parts of the state have seen wetter conditions, the RFS says the coming fire season poses problems. Credit:Nick Moir

“I am quite worried about the western part of the state with this grassland when it dries out, which I don’t think is going to be [until] October or November,” NSW RFS Commissioner Rob Rogers said. “There’s a lot of grass [that] grows out there.”

Bourke Shire mayor Barry Hollman said the recent rain had turned the usually sandy oasis into a green one.

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Despite a strong RFS and town brigade, Cr Hollman said the fire danger was still present and warned the community – in places still recovering from last season – to remain vigilant.

“If you’re not concerned, that’s when you get caught out,” he said. “We’re aware of the fire season, we’re doing all we can to counter it and we’ll take it from there.”

“Western [NSW] people are hard-working; they get in and help one another and carry on.”

But Mr Rogers, the newly appointed RFS chief, also holds concerns for parts of the South Coast, Hunter, Central Coast and Greater Sydney regions.

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While the wet conditions for much of eastern regions of NSW hampered fuel-reduction burns, it needs only a couple of dry weeks in spring with strong westerly winds to elevate the fire risks again, Ross Bradstock, director of the University Wollongong’s centre for environmental risk management of bushfires said.

“Everybody understands there’s still a lot of risk,” he said.

Fire agencies will most likely struggle to make up for shortfalls in prescribed burning come the spring because “the weather can be a lot more unstable. You can get [fire] escapes and that kind of thing”, Professor Bradstock said.

In a bid to make hazard reduction easier, the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre has launched a new website to assist Australia’s fire agencies and land management departments by presenting options for their prescribed burning strategies.

The Prescribed Burning Atlas, created in partnership with the University of Wollongong, the University of Melbourne and Western Sydney University, covers 13 landscapes across Australia.

It also can factor in climate change and how it will impact the effectiveness and costs of prescribed burning.

“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to prescribed burning,” Professor Bradstock said.

“Strategies must be tailored to different environments, and the cost-effectiveness of these different strategies can vary considerably between regions. For example, what is suitable for the ACT will not necessarily be best around Hobart.”

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