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Rural Fire Services predicts major grass fire season for western NSW as crops and grass bloom

By Robyn Herron, Thursday June 18, 2020 - 13:13 EST
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The Sir Ivan fire near Dunedoo destroyed 35 homes in 2017. - ABC

Better than average rainfall has seen western New South Wales plan for bumper crops and grasses, but fire authorities are now preparing for the potential for significant grass fires this summer.

Superintendent Lyndon Weiland is the Orana team leader for the Rural Fire Service (RFS), which covers the state's Central West region, and says after the worst bushfire season on record in the summer of 2019/2020 farmers need to be prepared.

"It'll be our turn this year out here in the west to get fast-running grass fires," he said.

Superintendent Weiland says grass fires will become a serious concern once the grass dries off around October and November.

"We need to be looking ahead, and I've got that feeling that we're going to have a fairly busy year," he said.

"A bushfire can run hard, but a grass fire, on a bad day, will run extremely fast and cover a lot more ground than a bushfire, as a rule of thumb."

It is a situation the western region is familiar.

east of Dunedoo, in February 2017 and burned through 55,000 hectares,

"It was running through a range and came out into grass area and ran very hard on a bad day," Superintendent Weiland said.

The fire created its own thunderstorm system which was about seven kilometres high.

No livestock, no grazing

Superintendent Weiland said the drought created another problem; stock numbers have been low and farmers have not been able to restock.

Livestock grazing is a crucial part of controlling fuel loads on properties.

"The mouths are not there to consume the vegetation," he said.

"Stock numbers will be very low, which will allow the vegetation to continue on, and there are some areas that are quite accessible to grazing, but not for slashing because of the terrain."

The RFS is working with authorities, including local councils, to implement a hazard-reduction program ahead of spring.

It will include slashing roadside verges and creating firebreaks around infrastructure.

Superintendent Weiland says it is something farmers will need to think about on their properties.

"Areas where you would normally graze; you can plough, spray or grade," he said.

"People need to be thinking of other ways of reducing the hazard, other than grazing if you haven't got the numbers at the moment."

Crews trained, ready to respond

COVID-19 restrictions have been another consideration for preparing for the fire season.

It has limited the opportunities for fire service volunteers to gather and train.

Superintendent Weiland said the RFS has managed to work around that by communicating online and over the phone.

He said an influx of volunteers, who joined after summer's bushfires, have been taking part in the training.

"We've been flat out trying to get those trained and meet the conditions in relation to the spread of the virus," he said.


© ABC 2020

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