A higher than average grass growth across the Southern Tablelands and surrounding areas has the NSW Rural Fire Service urging residents to prepare their Bush Fire Survival Plan before the summer months.
The warning is timely, as Australia faces a return to destructive bushfire seasons as higher temperatures, less rain and record amounts of vegetation combine for potentially tinderbox conditions.
The Actuaries Institute's climate index for autumn 2023 suggests "all the ingredients are there" for higher bushfire risk, including a turn towards an El Nino phase after years of wet weather.
Mitchell Butler of the NSW Rural Fire Service Southern Tablelands says the years following the 2019/20 bushfire season saw "below average" fire conditions.
However, he says the landscape in the Southern Tablelands and surrounding areas is now full of "higher fuel loads", and the vegetation is starting to dry out dramatically.
"The majority of the Southern Tablelands is grasslands," Mr Butler said.
"We're seeing higher grass growth across the landscape given the amount of rain we've received, so as we move into the upcoming fire season that will be challenging for our crews if we do get a running grass fire."
Mr Butler explained that the landscape is now so dry that come the bushfire season a "simple spark" has the potential to start a fire.
"And we have seen over the last couple of weeks grass fires start in the landscape in the Southern Tablelands," he said.
Mr Butler said the NSW Rural Fire Service was taking steps to assist land owners in carrying out hazard reduction burns and agriculture burns to: "either protect their own properties, or protect surrounding properties."
To survivors of the 2019/20 black bush fires, depending on the idea that there is no more fuel left to burn, Mr Butler says this is absolutely not the case.
"Even if they did experience the 2019/20 fire season they should still be vigilant and also be prepared because if a running grass fire does start they will move quickly and warnings will come out rapidly," he said.
"So each resident and community needs to know what to do either with their large rural property, small acreage or residential. They need to know what they're going to do if a fire does threaten their property."
"It's a simple plan. It goes through all the steps and then there is an option to print it off so that everyone in your family knows what to do if a fire does threaten that property," Mr Butler said.
"We want the community to definitely be vigilant and stay up-to-date with the most relevant information."
He urged residents to download the Hazards Near Me application and to monitor the Rural Fire Service website.
"So that if we do get a major incident across NSW there will be a major incident update on the Rural Fire Service website," he said.
"But also in the Hazards Near Me application."
These tools and resources have been improved and further developed since the 2019/20 bushfire season.
"The Hazards Near Me application was the Fires Near Me application," Mr Butler said.
"The Hazards Near Me application has just incorporated every natural disaster that occurs whether that's fires, floods or tsunamis into the one application to keep the community prepared for any emergency that may occur.
"The main thing as we do move into the bushfire danger period is we're asking the community to take simple steps to prepare their property," he said.
Those simple steps include cleaning gutters of any leaves and twigs; making sure there's a hose available and a fire sprinkler attached to the property; and moving flammable items away from dwellings such as firewood.