WELL into the first official month of summer and there is as yet no sign of fire restrictions coming into force on private land.
If the wet conditions persist, the region – CFA Fire Region 9 includes South Gippsland, Bass Coast and Baw Baw shires – is facing the very real possibility of an entire summer without the declaration by the CFA of a Fire Danger Period. That has only happened twice in the last 20 years or so.
The CFA’s Acting Operations Manager for Region 9, Ian Pattie, can envisage no need for restrictions in the next four to six weeks at least.
“Just last weekend the area north of the Strzeleckis recorded rainfall of almost 70mm,” he pointed out. “The conditions we have been experiencing – wetter, warmer and more humid than usual – are typical of a La Nina event – the opposite of an El Nino.”
Mr Pattie said the declaration of a Fire Danger Period is about regulating the use of fire when conditions are such that fire gets a bit more difficult to control in the natural environment.
He said that restrictions would be brought in if there was a sustained dry period, adding that with all the rain there had been massive vegetation growth.
“The potential for grass fires is there. I would ask landholders to get rid of long grass if they can,” said Mr Pattie.
“There has been such a lot of grass growth, when it does eventually dry out there’s the potential for fires to spread quickly,” the fire management officer for the Department of Sustainability and Environment in South Gippsland, David Gallacher, concurred.
He added that despite all the rain people could not afford to be complacent and campers, in particular, should be careful with their fires.
“On the bright side, because we have had such a good year in terms of rainfall, a lot of the heavy forest fuel – logs etc. – has become very damp, so it will be a lot harder to catch alight should a fire break out.”
It has been such a wet spring and summer so far it has proved very difficult for DSE to implement its planned burning program.
“We will take the opportunity to burn if and when the rain stops,” said Mr Gallacher. “Depending how the summer pans out, we may even be able to start our autumn burning program earlier than usual. The targets have been lifted significantly by the government since the fires of Black Saturday.”
DSE has now taken on the full complement of project fire fighters for the 2010-11 season, including sixteen at Foster, five at Tidal River and three at Wonthaggi.
As well as undertaking training – particularly the new recruits – they have largely been involved in track maintenance work, clearing fire breaks, and making sure all the gear is up to scratch. If there is a fire, they could be sent anywhere in the state.
They could also be deployed to help in planned burns – just where would depend on the department’s priorities and the weather.
The Foster office has also welcomed two new staff to the fire section in recent months. Emma Proctor has replaced Gary Cunliffe as District Operations Manager, and Renee Koelewyn is working at Foster for eight months as a project officer through DSE’s Graduate Recruitment Program.
Also new is a swag of CFA communications equipment which will enable the Foster Parks Victoria/DSE office to be used as a base for incident management if necessary – rather than the cramped Foster CFA station.
“We’re now set up better for joint operations,” said Mr Gallacher.