Hunter Rural Fire Service warns of possibly the worst bushfire season on record

BIG DRY: RFS officers Guy Baddock and Bob Shorten inspecting paddocks at Hillsborough just outside Maitland. PICTURE: Max Mason Hubers.
BIG DRY: RFS officers Guy Baddock and Bob Shorten inspecting paddocks at Hillsborough just outside Maitland. PICTURE: Max Mason Hubers.

Maitland and Cessnock residents should brace themselves for an unseasonally early and possible record breaking fire season with fuel on the ground, empty dams and little rain forecast until the new year.

The situation has our Rural Fire Service in overdrive, pushing the message early for householders and land owners to have their properties fire ready and carry out hazard reduction burns now.

Rural Fire Service Acting Coordinator Operational Services Lower Hunter, Guy Baddock, said Maitland and Cessnock local government areas were particularly vulnerable, in enduring drought and experiencing above average temperatures and below average rain fall.

This week, even though it’s mid winter, crews have been called to five fires around Cessnock, one that “escaped” from a private property and burnt into a national park at Laguna. Bolwarra Largs Brigade attended two calls during the week. One fire was a private land hazard reduction with a concerned passer-by making a 000 call.

“We had a big fire season last year, starting early, finishing late. If we don’t get good rain soon – and it looks unlikely – this could potentially be one of the worst seasons,  Mr Baddock said. 

“We are encouraging people to carry out hazard reduction burns and talk to the RFS control centre at East Maitland on how to improve safety burning practices. 

“We’re seeing a lot of private land hazard reduction carried out but they have been escaping from private properties and these sorts of incidents will make it very busy for us over the next couple of months.”

Hazard Reduction is burning vegetation to reduce the available fuel load and assist lowering the impact of  fire.  

Fires are maintaining combustion for much longer than normal during this dry spell.

 “We’re seeing more fire action than we would like,” Mr Baddock said.

 “We have low sub-soil moisture and it will dry out even more during the windy months of August and September.”

With no significant rainfall before fire season it will reach a point where fires will start much easier and burn a lot longer. The RFS is encouraging residents to prepare their properties now. 

“Clean up your yard. In cases where hazard reduction burns are needed, residents can come through the fire control centre for advice,” Mr Baddock said. “Residents need to prepare for the threat of bushfire and put a plan in place, such as how they are going to leave and what their fire danger is as far as their property is concerned. If you live in suburbia don’t think you’re safe. Embers can travel for kilometres, get into gutters quickly and take hold.”

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Hunter firefighters were glad to see the end of the 2016-17 bushfire danger period.

Severely hot and dry weather conditions, combined with dangerous cases of arson, meant Rural Fire Service crews were kept busier than usual.

Several dangerous fires raged during the 2016-17 season, at Abermain, Neath, Kurri Kurri, Port Stephens and in the Upper Hunter.

Some of the blazes passed within metres of homes but, remarkably, none were destroyed.

A catastrophic fire danger rating was declared in the Lower Hunter for two days in February, when the region experienced heat in excess of 45 degrees.