Farmers have been urged to be mindful of water shortages going into the fire season, as the Government announces the fire danger period will be brought forward in 12 local government areas in NSW to today (August 1).
The major fire risk focus leading into spring and summer will be in bushland areas, rather than in grassland, with the impact of the drought obviously cutting grassland fuel loads.
But farmers need to be mindful of the pressures on firefighting capabilities in the drought if they intend burning-off on their properties and any fires possibly get away, the Rural Fire Service (RFS) warned.
The LGA areas where the bushfire danger period will be brought forward are: Armidale Regional, Bega Valley, Eurobodalla, Glen Innes Severn, Inverell, Kempsey, Mid-Coast, Nambucca, Port Macquarie-Hastings, Tenterfield, Uralla and Walcha.
The proclamation means that landholders can not burn off without permits. The RFS advises that "once landowners have obtained a fire permit, they also need to contact all of their adjoining neighbors and their local Fire Control Centre to advise of their intention to burn a minimum of 24 hours before lighting any fire".
An RFS spokesman said the unprecedented move was a sign of how the drought was biting. As a sign of how dry it is, the announcement related mainly to bushland areas, not grasslands (such as areas of the Central-West) - there is little grassland to burn.
"We are seeing similar conditions to last year," an RFS spokesman said.
The Northern Tablelands and New England areas traditionally bring forward their bushfire danger period as frosts often cause grass to dry out early and become combustible.
New England RFS district officer Angus McDowall said if farmers were burning off, they needed to be aware that some firefighting capabilities were under pressure with declining water supplies and water restrictions in most areas, especially on the Northern Tablelands. This obviously would affect helicopters obtaining water to fight fires in certain locations.
Mr McDowall said National Parks had done a number of hazard reduction burns over autumn and winter, but forest fuel loads remained a fire threat especially as the season of dry storms approached.
"There is no doubt that ground fuel loads in many areas are low because of the drought, but we know that the threat will come from dry lightning strikes as we move forward. With the pressure on water, landholders need to be mindful that if they are doing a burn that water resources are very low."