Serious concerns ahead of bushfire season

Mt Keira Rural Fire Service volunteer Ben Pertki takes part in yesterday’s hazard reduction burn at Otford. Picture: MELANIE RUSSELLFirefighters fear a hectic bushfire season lies ahead with plenty of new grass growth across the region worsening summer fire risks.

Less than two weeks after a massive blaze ripped through 1600 hectares of bushland near Darkes Forest, Rural Fire Service (RFS) crews yesterday donned their fire gear again – this time getting in before any sign of trouble.

About 17 RFS crew members from Helensburgh, Oak Flats, Dunmore, Stanwell Park and Mt Keira brigades gathered at Otford to carry out a hazard reduction operation on a 2.25ha pocket of dense forest.

RFS Illawarra Zone Superintendent Richard Cotterill said there were serious concerns for the season ahead after a particularly damp lead-up to spring.

Adding to the fire risk were large volumes of ‘‘dead fall’’ consisting of limbs and leaves shed by trees during times of drought.

‘‘We’ve had a couple of fairly wet seasons which, in addition to the dead fall fuel, has seen the regeneration of the ground fuels and middle-storey fuels,’’ Mr Cotterill said.

He said hazard reduction burns helped reduce the intensity of bushfires and protected homes and other assets.

But there is only a small window of opportunity for burns to be carried out each year.

“For a hazard reduction burn to be successful, we require the right wind and temperature conditions and the ground fuels to be sufficiently dry,’’ Mr Cotterill said.

Yesterday’s controlled burn went off without a hitch, incident controller Ron Catlin said.

Earlier this month an intense fire tore across bushland between Bulli Tops and Darkes Forest in a potential sign of things to come this summer.

‘‘It is a reminder certainly that, here we are still in winter and we’re getting some fairly intense fire activity; we’ve just got to be mindful that that risk is always with us,’’ Mr Cotterill said.

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