Concern over Nullica State Forest logging debris

MAKE A PLAN: Marty Webster, Rural Fire Service community safety officer, Simon Green, Nethercote RFS captain and Ray Robinson, Nethercote RFS deputy captain at the meeting on Sunday.
MAKE A PLAN: Marty Webster, Rural Fire Service community safety officer, Simon Green, Nethercote RFS captain and Ray Robinson, Nethercote RFS deputy captain at the meeting on Sunday.

Rural Fire Service community safety officer Marty Webster has said local RFS officers have concerns about the way NSW Forestry Corporation has left areas of Nullica State Forest after harvesting.

Nullica State Forest was originally due to be logged in December 2014 with a burn planned for March/April this year, however the date for logging was changed to August 2015 with no burn off until autumn 2016.

There has been considerable community concern over the way the piles of discarded logs, branches and leaves have been left, particularly in view of the dire warnings of a hot summer.

Speaking at a community meeting at Nethercote Hall on Sunday, October 25, Mr Webster said: “We are hearing a lot of concern about the blocks that have been harvested. He said that following Forestry’s incorporation, the commercial and stewardship departments were not in contact in the same way they had been prior to incorporation.

Mr Webster intimated that the stewardship department “didn’t necessarily agree with the call to harvest at this time” but that commercial concerns took priority.

The comments followed an opening statement by Nethercote RFS deputy captain, Ray Robinson, who warned: “By all accounts this could be a nasty fire season.”

In relation to the logging debris Mr Webster said: “I wish I could do more about it. They assure me a perimeter trail has been put around it but fire behaviour will be difficult.The flame height will be lower but that’s not to say it’s not a significant risk.”

Mr Webster said that he had spoken with Forestry during the week “because I knew this would be an issue”.

A Forestry Corporation spokeswoman said: “The harvesting dates for Nullica State Forest were moved for a range of operational reasons including market requirements and timing of other harvesting operations.

“As part of  the harvest operation, fire breaks were constructed between the harvested areas and private property boundaries in consultation with landowners to assist with fire containment, should a wildfire start in the area.  Across the state Forestry Corporation places a high priority on fire preparedness, fast detection and early response. Nullica is close to the town of Eden where Forestry Corporation has fire-fighting resources stationed. The Corporation is also engaging seasonal fire-fighting staff to assist with fire response. The area will be scheduled for hazard reduction burning in autumn 2016.”

But not only is the RFS concerned about the logging debris, officers also point to higher fuel loads generally and less burn off time.

“In the last three years the number of days available to carry out burns has been less. It’s either too wet and then it dries out too quickly and we can’t burn. Climate change forecasting indicates there will be less available days for hazard reduction,” Mr Webster said.

The community meeting had been called by the RFS to reinforce the need for residents to make a plan in the event of a bushfire in the area.

Preparation was critical he said and urged people to start by looking around the first five metres of their home and remove wood piles, overhanging trees and branches and clean gutters. Where there were issues with adjacent bushland such as Crown land, he asked residents to inform local RFS officers who would assess it and if necessary send a ticket to the organisation responsible for attention. If it wasn’t cleared in six weeks, the RFS would clear it and send the bill to the organisation which owned the land, Mr Webster said.

He gave a number of scenarios based on different fire danger ratings and explained that both humidity and wind were major factors in fire behaviour rather than temperature alone.

He stressed that for people who had decided to leave their property, it was important they did so early. Even when there was no actual fire, on certain fire danger days, people should consider doing their shopping elsewhere or visiting friends, Mr Webster said.

“If your plan is to leave, on a severe fire danger day, have brekkie and go to Merimbula or Eden, visit the beach, go to the shops, stay with a friend.

“If you hear a forecast for a catastrophic fire danger day don’t be in Nethercote. Our recommendation is that no property is defendable; no one should stay,” he said.

For those who want to stay and defend (on lesser fire rating days), he warned of the dangers of getting on the roof with a hose, saying that more people suffered injuries from slipping off the roof than from the fire itself.

He urged those who wanted to stay and defend to consider whether they were physically and mentally fit enough and to ensure they had adequate resources.

He also warned that during a fire embers could travel over many kilometres and that it was important that those who chose to stay and defend were prepared to patrol their property for ember attack.

RFS officers stressed that people should have clear plans about what they would do in a number of bushfire situations and discuss the plans with their family ensuring they had included any pets in their planning.

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