“WE ARE ready for whatever happens,” says Dave Gallacher, Fire Management Officer for South Gippsland at the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE).
“Weatherwise, it is looking like a fairly average summer, but we only need one or two bad days and a fire in the wrong place can still cause major issues, even in an average season. We can’t afford to drop our vigilance. We have to get as prepared as we can so we’re ready for whatever happens.”
DSE and Parks Victoria (PV) have been gearing up over the last couple of months, preparing for the fire season. The first group of project fire fighters (PFFs) commenced work with DSE at the start of October. Now that summer is officially here, the final group of PFFs has commenced work, and last Friday DSE and PV held a district briefing for fire fighters at Tidal River.
As well as the majority of DSE and PV staff who are rostered onto fire fighting tasks through the fire season, there are 21 project PFFs employed for the season across the South Gippsland Fire District. Ten are based at Foster, four at Tidal River, four at Mirboo North and three at Wonthaggi. (Yarram is part of the neighbouring Heyfield Fire District.)
Twenty-one is the same number of PFFs as were employed last year. More than half are experienced PFFs, the balance are new recruits, although even some of these have worked as volunteers for the CFA. There are even a couple of fire fighters from British Columbia, currently in Australia and glad to share their Canadian experience.
“I’m confident we have a good mix of experienced and keen new recruits,” said Mr Gallacher.
The new fire fighters will undergo training this week.
“These days we have more of a focus on regular training than we have had in the past. Last Thursday, for instance, the PFFs were out testing their navigation skills around Foster,” said Mr Gallacher.
They will also be assisting the other PFFs check and clear fire access tracks and prepare for the annual slashing program centred on tracks and firebreaks which will get underway next week.
“We co-ordinate our slashing work as much as possible with the shire contractors,” said Mr Gallacher.
Weather plays an important role in any fire season. Although this summer is looking like conditions will be fairly average, the latest information from the weather bureau indicates there is a reasonable chance of maximum and minimum temperatures a bit higher than average. “Having higher minimum temperatures is an issue for fires burning overnight,” advised Mr Gallacher.
“The rainfall looks like being fairly average. The biggest issue we are facing is that because we’ve had such a wet winter the growth of vegetation is very prolific on both private and public land. We have to be careful, especially on hot and windy days.”
“We have always had a good relationship with our local CFA, but these days DSE and PV are working increasingly closely with the CFA. Our systems are more closely aligned and we have more joint training. With the encouragement of Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley, both agencies are using the same web-based incident mapping, for instance.”
CFA representatives were invited to the district fire briefing at Tidal River in Wilsons Promontory National Park last Friday, although most of the personnel present were from DSE or PV. They undertook practical exercises in handling pumps and tankers, which was appreciated by the staff members who do not work full-time on fire fighting, as well as the PFFs. The standby rosters came into effect last week, so any day they are rostered on they could be called to a fire on public land.
Fire restrictions are not yet in for South Gippsland, but householders everywhere are advised to prepare for the fire season and be vigilant, especially on the days of greatest fire risk.