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Inland grass growth increases bushfire risk

Cath McAloon, Monday September 2, 2013 - 13:54 EST
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The Bushfire Co-Operative Research Council is forecasting above normal fire potential for parts of southern Australia during the 2013 - 2014 fire season. - ABC

The Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre is predicting large areas of southern Australia will face above normal fire potential in the coming season.

The areas most at risk include north-west Queensland, inland New South Wales and Victoria and the New South Wales central and south coasts, as well as much of western Australia.

The centre says the above normal forecast is due to abundant grass growth across inland Australia.

Chief executive Gary Morgan says it's a less severe outlook than last season.

"There are large areas of southern Australia, especially along the east coast, and the west coast, extending inland, that have the potential for above normal bushfire activity this coming season. However, the areas most at risk do not extend right across the country as we saw in 2012-13."

Mr Morgan says the outlook will help fire agencies prepare.

"We know that when fires start, and they will, even in areas which are just for normal fire potential, they will run and on any given day they can take lives and destroy assets, so we prepare for that.

"When we look at above normal fire potential, that's the areas where the agencies have the highest degree of concern about being able to cope with it with their just normal preparedness and normal resourcing, so the indications then are for the agencies to then take additional preparation for the fire season and look at how they might supplement their resources within those areas.

"We've seen some very good indications where that has been possible in the past and they've been many fires started within the area where we had predicted above normal fire prediction and didn't receive large areas or any loss of life."

The United Firefighters Union says it has serious concerns about the preparedness of fire brigades, including those that rely on volunteer firefighters, to cope during the coming fire season.

"The research shows that there has been a decline in the volunteer firefighter numbers. The brigades that do have volunteers are not necessarily available during the times they're required, so there's certain problems, but that's like all voluntary organisations," says the union's national secretary Peter Marshall.

A recent Senate committee report into Australia's preparedness to respond to extreme weather events recommended governments address issues of compatibility and the capacity for emergency services, especially fire services, to operate together more effectively.

It echoes findings from Victoria's Royal Commission into the Black Saturday fires.

Mr Marshall says a national approach is urgently needed.

"There's no one agency that operates as an overarching umbrella to ensure co-ordination.

"Each state, each territory, does their own thing. Indeed, they do it differently.

"(The) equipment is not compatible, training levels are different, even protective equipment is different.

"We are long overdue for a national approach, because fires, and indeed other extreme weather events, do not know geographical boundaries."


© ABC 2013

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