October 2020 newsletter – Reflecting on last year’s bushfire season
As we look forward to the onset of bushfire season, it’s also appropriate to reflect back on last season’s challenges.
When I arrived in South Australia last October, I was immediately made aware that the state had been in a prolonged drought affecting many areas, the fuel loads were high due to limited hazard reduction and the forecast was worrying.
All of those factors combined to present SA with the worst series of fires it had ever endured. I had studied the state’s fire history and it was clear that fires, whilst occasionally ferocious, usually tended to be over in a few days.
‘Campaign’ fires such as the ones at Keilira, Cudlee Creek and Kangaroo Island were apparently very rare.
It was also apparent that some landowners who are responsible for managing their land accordingly to reduce the risk of fire on their land hadn’t embraced those responsibilities at all.
That is a concern to me and, through the State Bushfire Coordination Committee, I will emphasise the importance of everyone undertaking their responsibilities.
Reports of landowners not being able to burn hazardous areas due to over-zealous bureaucracy and slow and unresponsive officialdom are all too common. It doesn’t matter if they are all true or not, the fact remains that landowners need to be empowered to help control risk levels, not hindered.
Another important issue last season was the private farm fire units (FFUs) which did so much to help with the firefighting operations.
Some people had suggested to me in briefings early in my role that FFUs were challenging for the CFS. However, I quickly assessed that the CFS had actually been built up from local firefighting groups just like the FFUs and resolved instead to engage with them as much as possible.
Commanders across the state report to me that the efforts of the FFUs were outstanding and they were important contributors to the fight against the fires we endured.
The combined efforts of the CFS, Metropolitan Fire Service and the FFUs resulted in massive economic benefits to the state. That doesn’t mean we celebrate, as the losses of lives, properties, farms and livestock are deeply felt. However, as crazy as it sounds, it could have been considerably worse.
The CFS recognises the importance of the agricultural industry as one of the economic mainstays of SA and as the custodians of so much of the land in the state.
We don’t ever place total fire bans in place without thinking of the potential economic impacts of doing so.
As reported by the Bushfire CRC last month, the bushfire season looks set to be as late as the end of November this year.
Recent rain will briefly adjust soil moisture levels but the trend remains dry, with many parts of SA enduring the third-driest June and July on record.
Many of our CFS volunteers come from the land management and agricultural community and I know how time poor they become when harvesting starts. That’s why we appreciate any support or time they can give to the CFS.
As we move closer to the onset of the next fire season, I look forward to increased liaison and a close working relationship between local landowners and CFS volunteers, many of whom are primary producers in their own right.
– MARK JONES, SA CFS Chief Officer