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Firefighters and farmers fear 'horrific' bushfire season for Scenic Rim with increased risk of grass fires

By Sarah Cumming, Friday June 19, 2020 - 08:30 EST
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Trevor Turner says a "horrific crisis" is looming due to fuel loads. - ABC

Volunteer firefighters in Queensland's Scenic Rim region, west of the Gold Coast, say they are concerned this year's bushfire season will be "just as bad" as last year's, as the region's farmers struggle to recover from the drought.

Recent rain has boosted fuel loads on some properties, but many graziers have destocked, so there are fewer cattle grazing, prompting fears of more grass fires in summer.

Farmer Trevor Turner from Mount Alford Rural Fire Brigade said the long-term bushfire outlook was concerning.

"It's cropping up to be just as bad; it's very dry we're going back into a drought," he said.

"We're starting to feed cattle again now; [we] destocked a lot."

Mr Turner said cattle would not eat some of the grass, contributing to the concern.

"We're going to have no fires on the park this year, but we're going to have them all in the council area," he said.

"We got late rain and what that meant was we got late growth in the grass, and it was the more stemmy useless grass that the cattle won't eat.

"So we've got an horrific crisis coming up in the shire land."

Dry conditions 'horrendous'

Dairy Farmer Ruth Chalks said she had also destocked after three summers without adequate rain to grow paddock feed.

She said her Carney's Creek property had experienced a decline in rainfall since 2014.

"Drought creeps up on you; it's not like a flood, and it happens in one day," Ms Chalks said.

"Drought is insidious; it chews away at you.

"'Horrendous' is the only word you could call last year."

Decent rainfall finally arrived earlier this year, but the wet weather brought a new threat.

"With the rainfall in January, February, there's been a lot of grass that has been grown," she said.

"In areas like ours, the terrain is hillier country; it's harder to slash and to try and control that fuel load."

Abundant amount of fuel

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) South Coast area director, Kaye Healing, said crews were continuing their strategic hazard reduction burns and were focused on the risk of grass fires.

"Generally there's a process where the grass grows, the cows eat the grass, and it goes back down again," Ms Healing said.

"But where we've had stock removed because of the drought, and there was no grass, then the grass did grow, the farmers haven't been able to put stock back on.

"So that's where we've got the abundant amount of fuels in some of those open grazing country."

Ms Healing said during intense winds grass fires would become challenging to manage.

"You get your high westerlies and in open grassland where there's no stock and some areas where they've been hit by frost all that grass that is standing there is available fuel," she said.

"So it does increase the fire intensity and can make a fire become harder to control."

Ms Chalk, whose family was still recovering from a summer of fighting fires plus the emotional and financial toll of drought, said authorities needed to tap into locals' knowledge when it came to fire preparedness.

"They know the terrain; using their expertise to make some of those strategic decisions early, around control burning and things like that to reduce fuel loads and therefore reduce the risk on homes and lives," she said.


© ABC 2020

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