Fire bans in SA — and the CFS are ready but are you?

Longer bushfire danger seasons and more total fire ban days are expected in coming years as average rainfall declines and the mercury rises, warns the Country Fire Service and Bureau of Meteorology.

The grim prediction comes as three total fire bans are declared today for the West Coast, Flinders and Northwest Pastoral Ranges, where temperatures will soar to the mid-30s – 10C above the average.

Last year’s bushfire danger period stretched to seven-and-a-half months – one of the longest on record. But the CFS warns that even longer periods could become the norm.

CFS director of preparedness operations Brett Loughlin said bushfire danger seasons were getting longer across the nation.

“In my experience, the seasons are getting longer and the job isn’t getting easier,” Mr Loughlin said.

“There comes a point when you can have all the fire trucks in the world but they are not going to make a difference in these fires like Pinery, Sampson Flat or Black Saturday. There are always going to be more homes than fire trucks, there is only so much that the CFS can do about it.

“The biggest impact we can have is to make sure the community is prepared and have bushfire plans in place.”

First time CFS volunteer Stefanie Zakrzewski with State training officer Robin Geytenbeek. Picture: Simon Cross
media_cameraFirst time CFS volunteer Stefanie Zakrzewski with State training officer Robin Geytenbeek. Picture: Simon Cross

Last year, the bushfire season was declared two weeks early and extended for an extra two weeks in four state districts – the first time in a decade that seasons were extended at both ends.

All but Kangaroo Island and the Lower South East had a longer-than-normal fire season last year.

It is expected that within the next fortnight, set dates for the beginning of this year’s bushfire season will be declared.

Australians brace for devastating fire season

Australians have been warned to brace for a devastating bushfire season as the country battles drought and record high temperatures. (AAP Video)

Bureau severe weather manager Kylie Egan said there was an emerging trend of longer fire danger seasons.

Fire head up a ridge towards power lines at Fire Black Hill Conservation Reserve above Gorge Road ,Wednesday April ,17,2019.(Image AAP/Mark Brake)
media_cameraFire head up a ridge towards power lines at Fire Black Hill Conservation Reserve above Gorge Road ,Wednesday April ,17,2019.(Image AAP/Mark Brake)

“This is occurring because our climate is warming and drying over time,” she said.

“Particularly when there is less rainfall in spring, the fuel load in the landscape is dry earlier compared to a wetter or cooler winter and spring.

“We are also seeing a higher frequency of heatwaves.

“The climate outlook for the next three months is looking like a high chance of below-average rainfall, drier conditions are more likely.”

Mr Loughlin said the summer season was no longer being broken by significant rain.

“We saw last year that the season went for seven-and-a-half months and that is pretty significant, one of the longer ones,” he said.

“Even if you look at recent bad seasons in SA like 2015-16, when we had Pinery, we saw good season-breaking rain in March which led to a more normal end. Same thing happened the year before with Sampson Flat.

“Last year, there wasn’t the season-ending rain and they are telling us we are going to be seeing more of that going forward.”

CFS ready for action – but now it’s your turn

New Country Fire Service volunteers are preparing to pull on the yellow overalls for the first time this year as South Australia braces for an intense fire-danger season, expected to start earlier than ever.

Eager men and women have been hard at work at Brukunga – the CFS’s Adelaide Hills training headquarters – learning how to deal with fire emergencies expected over summer.

But sole responsibility cannot rest on the shoulder of volunteers, says CFS Region Two commander Brenton Hastie, whose area covers the northern Mt Lofty Ranges, Mid North and Yorke Peninsula.

First time CFS volunteer Stefanie Zakrzewski with State training officer Robin Geytenbeek. Picture: Simon Cross
media_cameraFirst time CFS volunteer Stefanie Zakrzewski with State training officer Robin Geytenbeek. Picture: Simon Cross

He says property owners must prepare to keep safe in dangerous conditions.

“It is a concerning year. There are some areas in drought, but the bulk of my region has had enough rain that there is a grassfire risk out there,” he said.

“The winds we’ve been getting, it’s drying up really quickly.

“If we have the right weather, and are unfortunate enough to have a fire start, any fire will be very intense.”

The state’s previous fire season – which usually begins for some rural areas this month – lasted a record-breaking 228 days.

A recently released national report, the Australian Seasonal Bushfire Outlook, says dust during windy conditions is expected on high fire-risk days, which could hamper aerial firefighting.

While predictions are severe, first-time CFS volunteer Stefanie Zakrzewski said she was excited to use her new skills.

“We’ve covered off on things like how to respond with hoses to the frontline,” she said.

“Also, how to do a burnover if we get caught in a situation where flames are approaching, an introduction to road crash and hazmat incidents and a whole range of other things.”

She described the organisation as much more than a “firefighting agency”.

“I’m most looking forward to the upcoming fire season and joining a brigade, getting the camaraderie that comes with being on the frontline and sharing the frontline with the other men and women,” she said.

“I’m excited to grow my skills in those areas and to be able to support the community … to share a passion for protecting our community.”

Mr Hastie said now was the time for residents – particularly those in vulbnerabvle areas – to prepare a bushfire survival plan.

He said homeowners should safeguard their properties under the assumption they might be forced to face a fire threat on their own.

“A well-prepared property gives you a far greater chance of your house still being there if it is impacted by fire,” Mr Hastie said.

“The CFS – and every fire service – does not have enough trucks to get to every house in the community.

“So people need to clear vegetation, make sure your gutters are clear, ensure there’s no raw material around your house to give your house the best chance of surviving.

“If the fire gets there, it means you can focus on extinguishing embers or, if your bushfire survival plan is to leave, you can leave knowing that you’ve done