“It’s a hell of a lot of pressure on volunteers” – ex fire boss Ken Thompson

Elka Wood31 August 2019
The bushfire season has been brought forward by a month in the Eurobodalla, Bega Valley and Snowy-Monaro. Photo: BOM.

The bushfire season has been brought forward by a month in the Eurobodalla, Bega Valley and Snowy-Monaro. Photo: BOM.

August 1 marked the early start of bushfire season for the Eurobodalla and Bega Valley and the Snowy-Monaro has followed close behind, with Sunday, September 1 marking another earlier start the shire’s danger period.

Fire Permits are now required to burn in all three shires.

The decision to bring the Bush Fire Danger Period forward one month in the Snowy-Monaro and two months in the Eurobodalla and Bega Valley is the result of the ongoing dry conditions and has followed consultation with brigade captains, group captains and member agencies of the Bush Fire Management Committee.

Ken Thompson is the former Deputy Commissioner of the NSW Fire Brigade (now Fire and Rescue NSW) and says, “the fire season has been extending on both ends, causing overlap with state and hemisphere fire seasons and creating a lack of firefighting resources.”

“It’s not that unusual to see the danger period brought forward to September but last year’s statewide total fire ban in August was unprecedented.”

The fire season typically starts in Queensland and travels south but has been behaving unpredictably in recent years, Ken explains.

“We’ve got fires burning now in Northern NSW and around Newcastle, it’s unusual for this time of year.”

Climate change, resulting in higher than average temperatures and lower than average rainfall, is at the root of the unusual and unpredictable fire seasons we’ve been seeing nationwide, Ken says.

Red areas showing higher than average temperatures across Australia. Photo: BOM.

Red areas showing higher than average temperatures predicted across Australia. Photo: BOM.

Ken is frustrated that firefighting agencies don’t have a government climate change policy framework in which to argue for the resources they need.

“Our aerial resources are not as well developed in Australia, it’s private companies who hire out the big water bombers and because the southern and northern hemispheres are having longer and more overlapping seasons, these resources are more in demand, making international resource-sharing difficult,” Ken says.

Longer and more intense bushfires are also putting a strain on firefighting services and firefighters, especially our volunteer firefighters.

“It’s a hell of a lot of pressure on volunteers who are trying to do a day job and have a family as well, it’s a big ask as the season extends,” he says, adding that the window firefighters have to do hazard reduction burns is closing in, resulting in fuel build-up.

“Organizations like RFS are doing the best they can to reduce risk but they can’t take unnecessary risks to do a burn and they have fewer days to take that opportunity every year.”

The only saving grace in the Bureau of Meteorology forecast for the 2019/20 fire season is that it looks like the El Nino weather system, which brings dry and hot weather, has not formed yet, Ken comments.

“Although having said that, we’ve been having bad fire seasons the last few years without El Nino so it’s hard to imagine how much worse it could be. All indicators are there that El Nino will build this year or next year, usually around this time of year.”

Expressing his concern for Bega Valley residents who were affected by the Tathra and Yankees Gap fires last year, Ken recommends that all NSW residents make a fire plan now.

“The season will come on us pretty quickly when it comes,” he says “if your property is not prepared now, make it your plan to leave early and know your evacuation meeting points.”

Ken Thompson is a spokesperson for Climate Council Australia. For advice and guidance on making a Bushfire Survival Plan check the RFS website or speak to your local brigade.

What's Your Opinion?

One Response to “It’s a hell of a lot of pressure on volunteers” – ex fire boss Ken Thompson

Vivian Harris 8:02 am 31 Aug 19

Another great article Elka explaining how climate change affects our lives.