RUNAWAY fires from hazard reduction burns on farms have prompted the suspension of fire permits across at least seven northern council areas from today.
One regional fireman has described the conditions as a “perfect recipe for a major fire” in plenty of places and says there have been more than 50 out-of-control hazard reduction burns across NSW in the past three days, including nine in the New England.
The message for property managers and homeowners is clear: forget about trying to light a fire in the New England and Northern Tablelands for at least five days, as a result of dangerous conditions and plentiful grass stocks.
NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) New England Superintendent Steve Mepham said towns and areas in the suspension area included Bundarra, Tingha, Guyra, Walcha, Armidale and Inverell.
The suspension applies to the Tenterfield, Inverell, Glen Innes, Guyra, Armidale Dumaresq, Walcha and Uralla local government areas.
Fire authorities have reported that at the weekend, a Bingara farmer nearly lost his home when his hazard reduction got out of control.
Another private hazard reduction burn at Moonbi – lit last Friday during high winds – also got away from the landholder.
With warm weather forecast today, and storms with lightning and high winds expected within the next few days, Superintendent Mepham said it was the “perfect recipe for a major fire”.
The bushfire danger period, which is when fire permits come into effect, runs between October 1-March 31 every year – but for the past four years, including this season, the New England area had brought its forward to August 1 because of high fuel (grass) loads.
The Tamworth RFS has applied to bring forward its fire-permit period from October 1 to September 1, but was waiting to hear back from NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, a spokesman said yesterday.
The RFS and NSW Farmers’ Association are pleading with landowners to be careful.
Mr Fitzsimmons said some of the recent fires caused thousands of dollars’ damage to property, including sheds, equipment, vehicles and fences, but that firefighters had prevented the loss of any homes.
“We encourage landowners to reduce hazards on their property, but they must use their commonsense,” he said.
Superintendent Mepham agreed.
“They’ve got a permit to burn, but they’re not thinking what’s happening today or tomorrow,” he said.
NSW Farmers’ president Fiona Simson said the first priority should always be safety, “so never conduct a burn if conditions are not suitable”.
“There are alternatives to burning, including hand clearing, mowing, or slashing areas,” she said.
Mr Fitzsimmons said landholders must check whether permits were required in their area, take precautions, such as having fire-fighting equipment on standby, and should seek advice from the RFS about conducting safe hazard reduction burns.
Superintendent Mepham advises landholders to ensure they are well prepared before burning off.
“Following a lot of heavy rain in the area, we are faced with high fuel loads, which present a very real fire risk when hazard reduction burns are not conducted safely,” he said.
“For hazard reduction burning to be safe and effective, residents need to take weather conditions and forecasts into consideration.
“Clearly, this did not happen last week, resulting in burns escaping and putting our firefighters and resources under undue stress.
“Notify your neighbours and local fire authority 24 hours before starting a hazard reduction burn.”