THE Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) has painted a frightening picture of the summer ahead.
Almost all of the expansive and currently lush grasslands west of the ranges are set for above-normal fire activity in 2012-13 according to its latest fire forecast.
The forecast was released on Tuesday after extensive consultation and a meeting between fire managers, scientists and the Bureau of Meteorology at Rural Fire Service (RFS) headquarters in Lidcombe last week.
But the predictions of potentially disastrous grass fires in the west of the State are just the start of the threat which NSW faces this summer, said RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers.
“The point is each and every year there is a risk of forest fire danger in those typically forested areas,” he said.
“What there hasn’t been – because of the drought for more than a decade – was that grass fire danger. So we’ve still got the forest fire risk but we’ve also now got significant grass fire risk due to the record rainfall over the last couple of years.
“It’s an expansive area that now has so much grass growing on it... some areas are carrying a lot of fuel.”
The seasonal outlook paints a bleak picture with much of southern Australia – particularly NSW, Western Australia and South Australia facing an above-normal fire season.
While Victoria is expected to experience normal activity, southern Queensland is also facing an above-average fire season.
Mr Rogers said there was potential for disastrous consequences in western parts of NSW this summer, with many people having not experienced the last major western grass fires of the 1970s and ’80s.
“People underestimate just how devastating grass fires can be. They travel at a frightening rate, can jump ahead of themselves at incredible speed and they can be very, very dangerous,” he said.
Mr Rogers said the RFS was conducting hazard reduction burns and working with councils to install strategic fire breaks and ensure key roads were up to a high standard.
A fortnight ago the RFS took the unprecedented step of taking senior volunteers from brigades east of the ranges on a tour through the western grasslands.
Mr Rogers said these volunteers would be the basis of any strike teams, should they need to be assembled during the fire season.
“They will be the key people if we need to send groups out west... to make sure they’re there to provide a kind of induction for crews coming from the coast, because they have been out there in calm times, seen what some of the issues are and heard from some of the locals about particular fire hazards they have in their particular area,” he said.
“What we’ve got to do is make sure we use those people that have that knowledge and combine them with locals, just to make sure that crews that get sent in from outside do the best they can as far as helping what the locals need, but also keeping themselves safe.”
Mr Rogers said given Victoria was not facing an above-average season, the RFS would not be “too proud” to ask for assistance from the Country Fire Authority.
Bushfire CRC chief executive officer Gary Morgan said the purpose of the seasonal outlook – which assesses the fire potential based on previous rainfall and fires and climate outlook – was to provide fire managers with the best, up-to-date fire information.
“We provide this so that each of the State and territories can actually know what the threat is likely to be for the bushfire season and then do their planning accordingly to manage their threat,” Mr Morgan said.
“It enables them to know not only whether they’ve got a potential problem or not in their jurisdiction, but whether their adjoining neighbours have got a potential problem.”