RFS warn of extreme conditions ahead

Every year the Rural Fire Service (RFS) will issue warnings about the upcoming fire season but this year there’s a different tone to the warnings coming on the back of the Tathra bush fire in autumn and the Bemboka bush fire in winter.

Merimbula RFS community liaison officer Chris Nicholls said the RFS was potentially facing a very difficult time.  

He urged people not to delay but to take responsibility for themselves and get a bush fire survival plan in place.

We’re looking at extreme conditions and if there’s no significant rain in the coming months we’re looking at the worst fire season in living memory.

Merimbula RFS captain Alex Leonard

“People in towns tend to think they won’t be affected but the events at Tathra tell us that is not the case. A lot of people in Tathra didn’t have a bush fire plan,” Mr Nicholls said.

Merimbula RFS captain Alex Leonard warned the south coast was facing some extreme conditions.

“At the moment we have 90 per cent of the state in drought. We haven’t seen anything like this on the south coast since the 60s.

“We’re looking at extreme conditions and if there’s no significant rain in the coming months we’re looking at the worst fire season in living memory. I’d love to be proven wrong but at the moment that’s where we stand,” he said.

Mr Leonard’s comments are borne out by the Bush Fire and Natural Hazards CRC which has just released the latest southern Australian seasonal bushfire outlook.

The ongoing drought conditions continues to dry out forested areas from the Victorian to Queensland border. It is these areas which remain a concern and are highlighted as having an above normal fire potential this fire season.

The RFS is urging people to prepare and make plans for what they would do if fire threatened their area.

“Whether you are in town or out, clear leaves away from gutters and decks,” Mr Nicholls said.

“In Tathra there were a lot of problems with decks which caught fire. Make sure the wood pile is away from the house, ensure acreage is slashed and that there are no overhanging branches,” he added.

Make sure the wood pile is away from the house, ensure acreage is slashed and that there are no overhanging branches.

Chris Nicholls, Merimbula RFS community liaison officer

Mr Leonard said that they needed to have a frank discussion with community members about the questions of defending their property.

“We need to talk about age, physical ability, what to do about animals,” he said.

“The worst thing you can do is to leave decision making until until fire impacts.”

RFS members are happy to visit properties to assess the bush fire situation and help people make their bush fire plan.

Last year they visited over 40 property owners and for some it was a reality check as pumps failed to start, hose fittings were discovered to be the wrong size or hoses perished in addition to owners who hadn’t considered that the electricity service was unlikely to be available to run an electric-powered pump.

“We also need to be able to get a truck in and out of your boundary,” Mr Nicholls said adding that much of their work was in property protection.

He said it was the speed of the Tathra fire that they hadn’t seen before.

“The ember attack was fearsome. A fire can spot 3km ahead but people think spot fires are just small fires but in reality they are a new fire front and can easily join up to create a new fire front,” Mr Nicholls said.

“If you are going to stay and defend make sure you have appropriate clothing, thongs and a tee shirt won’t do it and never underestimate the effect of smoke. It can make you fall over,” he said.

Mr Leonard urged everyone to come and talk to the RFS who will be holding a number of events on Saturday, September 22 and Sunday, September 23 (see below for times and locations).

If you can’t make one of the events, contact your local RFS or visit the RFS website and download a survival plan.  Phone the Bega Valley RFS office on 6494 7400 for contact details of your local RFS. 

Saturday, September 22, 9-10am - Merimbula Visitor Information Centre car park 

Saturday, September 22, 10.45-12 noon, Millingandi - Boggy Hills Road intersection

Saturday, September 22, 1-2pm - Upper Bournda - Corner of Kulbardi Close and Sapphire Coast Drive, Bournda  

Sunday, September 23, 10am-12 noon - Station Open Day - fundraiser and barbecue/family day for brigade and community

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