Fire season not over yet, warns Country Fire Authority

Firefighters respond to a fire at Brewster in January. Photo: Kate Healy
Firefighters respond to a fire at Brewster in January. Photo: Kate Healy

DESPITE the downpour in recent days, the Country Fire Authority has warned that the region is still at risk of fast-running grass and scrub fires, with February a month in which many of the state's worst fires have occurred.

While fire conditions have eased in parts of the state as a result of recent wet weather, CFA Acting Assistant Chief Officer of the Western Region, Michael Boatman, said the fire season was not over yet and the community needed to remain aware of the potential for fire.

The fire season started somewhat early around Ballarat and it has been dry for several months. While a number of fires have occurred, the region has escaped the widespread devastation other parts of the state have experienced.

As much of Victoria is currently experiencing reprieve in the form of wet weather, firefighters are continuing to work to bring significant fires in the east of the state under control, but a serious fire threat still remains across the state.

This season a number of grass, scrub and bushfires have kept authorities busy in the Ballarat region. While many of the blazes have been caused by lightning strikes, others were avoidable - caused by humans.

CFA Acting Assistant Chief Officer of the Western Region, Michael Boatman last year. Photo: Lachlan Bence

CFA Acting Assistant Chief Officer of the Western Region, Michael Boatman last year. Photo: Lachlan Bence

With recent rain causing some rural areas to green up as well as the Bureau of Meteorology forecasting warm weather in coming weeks, there is a potential for new growth to dry out and burn.

Mr Boatman said there was still a potential for fires to burn with considerable intensity and activity, even though it is the tail end of the season.

Last season four major fires ignited in the Ballarat region, including at Mt Clear in April.

"Despite the rain we have had, we could still have a fire that could impact the community," he said.

"That means as we move through the next few weeks with those hotter conditions, there's potential for grass fires particularly to have considerable impact on spike days.

"Our message to the community is that there is still the risk of fast-running scrub and grass fires and we are not out of the danger zone just yet. This is still fire season and you still need to be prepared."

Mr Boatman said now was a good time for community members to revisit their bushfire safety plans - especially if circumstances have changed in recent weeks with people returning to work and school.

In the past, many of Victoria's biggest fires have occurred at this time of year.

Mr Boatman said one of the last bushfire season's highest impact fires - at Bunyip State Park - did not start until March 1, but burnt through more than 15,000 hectares and destroyed 29 homes as well as outbuildings. It took two weeks to contain.

"Victorians are reminded that some of the most devastating fires in our state have occurred throughout the month of February, including the St Patrick's Day fires in 2018, Black Saturday in 2009, the North East fires in 2003, and Ash Wednesday in 1983. Going further back, the Gippsland Fires in 1965, Red Tuesday in 1898, and Black Thursday in 1851 all took place during February," he said.

The air wing supports firefighters on the ground in Clunes in late January, 2020. Photo: Lachlan Bence

The air wing supports firefighters on the ground in Clunes in late January, 2020. Photo: Lachlan Bence

After the 2018-19 bushfire season, the CFA's annual Bushfire Community Survey revealed that 52 per cent of respondents considered the fire risk moderate, minor and for others, non-existent.

Despite CFA messaging encouraging people to leave early, a third responded saying that they would only leave when a fire threatens their town or suburb, rather than the morning of or night before a day of extreme fire danger.

However, Mr Boatman said the CFA had been pleased with how communities had heeded its warnings and left their homes early as advised to do so this season.

"We want people to continue to do that, but also to take responsibility for their own safety as we won't always be able to give them that early opportunity to evacuate, especially if we're talking about a new and fast-running fire," he said.

It's important to get your head around what the real risk is to you and your friends and family, how to minimise it and what to do when there is a bushfire emergency.

Michael Boatman

He said community members who live and travel to high-risk fire areas as well as tourists need to stay alert and inform themselves about how to keep safe if a fire breaks out near them.

"We ask that they understand the risk to them, how the warnings system works and what they need to do on high-risk bushfire days in the areas they live and work in and travel to," Mr Boatman said.

More information about bushfire planning, preparation and leaving early can be read at cfa.vic.gov.au

This story Fire season not over yet, warns Country Fire Authority first appeared on The Courier.