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Hawkesbury Braces for a Challenging Fire Season

Sep 18, 2023

The Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains regions once again faces the threat of a difficult fire season as memories of the 2019/2020 bushfire disasters still haunt residents. 

Experts are predicting another challenging fire season ahead as local authorities and residents have been working tirelessly to prepare for the months ahead. Firefighters, volunteers, and residents are gearing up for what may be a long and difficult season. Higher fuel loads in areas untouched in 2019-20 including the Sydney basin, coastal regions and the Hunter are likely to experience “increased risk”, according to the Australiasian Fire Authorities Council outlook.

Prevailing conditions are by no means benign, while comparisons to the catastrophic 2019 bushfire season, which raged from August 2019 to March 2020, are inevitable, they are not anticipated. According to Rural Fire Service (RFS) Operation officer Luc Roberts: “In the Hawkesbury we are expecting a fairly typical fire season like those preceding years of floods. We are not expecting a huge fire like Gospers’. But everyone out there should be aware that this will be a return to a typical fire season where we do have fires, and fires run quickly and hard.”

Blaxland RFS Crew

This year, the community is coming together with renewed determination to protect their homes, livelihoods, and environment.

The Bureau of Meteorology is expected to declare El Nino conditions which mean warmer temperatures and less rainfall for eastern Australia. Scientists have already declared that 2023 has experienced the hottest winter on record.

Reflecting on the lessons learned from the 2019/2020 inferno, Roberts said, “2019/2020 really provided a steep learning curve for a lot of people. We had fire conditions we hadn’t really experienced for a long time. A lot of people had never experienced that level of fire behaviour. We had significant low moisture levels being recorded and then prolonged periods of heat, which dried everything out even more. These are conditions we are not likely to experience this summer given we have had some rain over winter and even into spring, although now it is starting to dry out.”

In an effort to bolster their preparedness, the RFS has invested in training, acquired new equipment, including aircraft, and executed hazard reduction burns in critical areas whenever possible to mitigate risk.

“We are far more adaptable as a district now. We now know we can experience that level of fire, and we have a bit of a reference point. I think overall we are far more prepared, not just for another season like 2019 but just in general. A lot of people came together from a personal and volunteer level. From a strategic level, we’ve looked at some key areas and undertaken hazard reduction when we can,” Roberts said.

The RFS has also streamlined its public messaging efforts by simplifying the fire danger rating system from seven categories to four. The new system now encompasses moderate, high, extreme, and catastrophic, facilitating clearer and more concise communication to residents.

Local residents have been actively participating in workshops focused on creating firebreaks, maintaining safe zones around their properties, and devising effective evacuation plans. 

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) has also organized “Get Ready Weekend” workshops to encourage property owners to prepare on September 15 & 16. 

A recent survey undertaken by Victoria’s Country Fire Authority conducted in high risk areas found that many people would wait for emergency services to tell them what to do during a bushfire. Nearly 30% said they would stay in their properties until they felt threatened and 14 % would stay and defend their properties. 

Roberts said fire safety is a joint responsibility: “People need to stay vigilant and informed. Residents need to take responsibility for their properties, go through a bushfire survival plan. The RFS is there to help but cannot be everywhere at once.” 

The RFS has been emphasising the significance of heeding evacuation orders and staying informed through official channels, such as the RFS website and local media.

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