The blazes that erupted across the Shoalhaven on Friday served as a timely reminder of the perils we face as summer approaches. They showed that despite all the technology designed to predict the weather, capricious winds can lay waste to the best laid plans.
Two hazard burns got away from firefighters when the wind did not conform to its predicted behaviour. Scheduled hazard burns went ahead because weather modelling told firefighters it was safe to proceed.
In the north of the Shoalhaven at Callala, the hazard burn got away, resulting in a tense, smoke-filled evening for residents. Incredibly, thanks to efforts of volunteers on the ground and skillful aerial water bombing, no properties were lost, although we are told some were showered in embers.
In the southern Shoalhaven, another hazard burn also got away.
The speed at which both fires moved in the face of a hot nor-westerly wind demonstrated how flammable the bush is at the moment.
Some people are asking why the scheduled burns went ahead, given the hot conditions on Friday.
The Rural Fire Service explained that hazard burns are planned well in advance and take note of Bureau of Meteorology forecasts, which are monitored very closely. If the parameters for a burn are satisfied by forecast it goes ahead.
Damp conditions through winter mean there is a limited opportunity as summer draws near and the bush dries out to conduct hazard burns. It simply won’t ignite if it wet. On Friday, conditions looked good before the wind unexpectedly gusted up and changed direction. That caused fires to spot beyond containment lines.
As it should, the RFS will review the events of Friday. It will look at what went wrong and how its volunteers responded.
We believe it is important to await the results of that review before rushing to judgment.
Perhaps even more critical is that we all realise the dangers that lie ahead through the bushfire season and do what is necessary to prepare our properties – and ourselves – to meet the threat.
That means the usual clearing of combustible materials from yards and houses (don’t forget the door mats, which are often overlooked).
We should also draw up those bushfire survival plans the RFS keeps reminding us about.
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