‘Prepare now’: RFS warns of high fire risk

Sunday's hazard reduction burn at Helensburgh. Picture: Facebook / Helensburgh Rural Fire Brigade
Sunday's hazard reduction burn at Helensburgh. Picture: Facebook / Helensburgh Rural Fire Brigade

Illawarra firefighters are bracing themselves for what’s shaping up to be a bad fire season – and want homeowners to do the same.

Prolonged dry weather, unseasonably-high temperatures and strong winds have forced the region’s NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) crews to begin preventative work earlier than normal.

RFS volunteers have carried out a number of hazard reductions in recent weeks, with the latest burn at Helensburgh on Sunday.

RFS Illawarra district manager Superintendent Greg Wardle said homeowners should also begin their fire preparations now.

Superintendent Wardle said conditions were a lot drier than usual for this time of year.

The region had its driest July on record and below average rain fell in June. 

“We’ve reviewed our plans, our procedures [and] the brigades are out there doing their preparation now,” he said.

“We’re obviously starting to do our hazard reduction burning earlier than we normally would; because it’s so dry that’s given us the opportunity to do that.

“For us across the district, we’re just a little bit more heightened in our awareness of the potential at this time of the year.”

The RFS has identified areas of concern across the region, including Mount Keira, Helensburgh, Otford and Darkes Forest – areas that would be the focus of hazard reductions in coming weeks. 

“Where the bush meets the urban interface, all those areas are of some concern on various levels,” Superintendent Wardle said.

“Anyone who backs up onto the bush or large areas of grass, need to start looking at their fire season preparation now.

“If these weather conditions continue, particularly with these winds and the warm temperatures like we’re looking at next week, then that’ll obviously exacerbate the onset of the fire season.”

Temperatures are expected to climb as high as 23 degrees in parts of the Illawarra this week.

The statutory bushfire danger period begins on October 1, but could be brought forward in some areas if conditions don’t improve.

The warning came as Thursday marked five years since residents battled to protect their homes from a bushfire at Darkes Forest.

Strong winds fanned the large fire, which started on the afternoon of August 10, 2012.

The blaze threatened six properties on Darkes Forest Road as it tore through 650 hectares of bushland.