Firefighters warn of high risk to Illawarra homes

The Rural Fire Service has warned Illawarra residents to prepare for heightened fire activity this year following a warmer and dryer than average July.

On Thursday, the RFS issued a ‘‘severe’’ fire rating for the Illawarra and Shoalhaven, a step that Illawarra Rural Fire Service superintendent Richard Cotterill said was unusual  for this time of year.

‘‘Certainly,  the end of July is unusual to see a fire rating at that level,’’ he said.

As of Thursday, Bellambi weather station had recorded just 2.6millimetres of rain for the month of July compared with a long-term average of 85millimetres.

Similarly, Albion Park weather station recorded just 2.8millimetres, compared with  a long-term average of 71millimetres.

Average temperatures for July  at both stations have been close to a degree above average.

Supt Cotterill said conditions were ‘‘lining up’’ for   a more dangerous than average fire season.

‘‘One of the main issues we’ve had is this incessant wind is causing fuel to become dryer than it normally would,’’ he said.

‘‘People need to be aware the conditions are unusual for this time of year –  they need to be vigilant.

‘‘I would encourage everyone to be preparing now for what may be a fairly active fire season.’’

In October 2013, the Hall Road fire burnt more than 15,000 hectares of bushland and destroyed two houses and 10 sheds in the Southern Highlands. At its peak, more than 350 firefighters were needed to stop the blaze spreading into towns such as Bargo and Wilton.

On Thursday, Emergency Services Minister Stuart Ayres announced the start  of the 10/50 vegetation clearing entitlement laws, which allow landholders in fire-prone areas to remove trees within 10metres of their homes, and clear vegetation other than trees within 50metres.

It was a move welcomed by University of Wollongong biological sciences senior research fellow Dr Owen Price, who has been studying  bushfires causes. ‘‘Certainly clearing fuels in that zone is helpful,’’ he said.

Dr Price said climate change was likely to result in more frequent, more intense fires.

‘‘You can never really pin any particular event on climate change,’’ he said. ‘‘But nevertheless there seems to be a generally increasing trend of more and bigger fires slowly.’’

Suspicious Bomaderry blaze contained

Fire crews have contained a suspicious fire in bushland at the rear of the TAFE Illawarra Nowra Campus at Bomaderry on Thursday afternoon.

With temperatures expected to reach in the mid 20s and winds forecast between 60 to 80km/h with peak gusts up to 110km/h, the Rural Fire Service declared a severe fire danger for the Shoalhaven until midnight Thursday.

Crews from Fire Rescue NSW Nowra and Shoalhaven as well as Rural Fire Service crews from Illaroo and Cambewarra attended the scene shortly after 1.30pm to find an area of bushland between Brinawarr and Beinda streets at Bomaderry well alight.

The fire threw up a large plume of smoke, which could be seen from the Nowra area.

Quick work by the crews stopped the blaze, which was being fanned by strong westerly winds, from spreading further.

It was the second time crews had been called to the area to fight fires in the past 24 hours.

Fire Rescue NSW Shoalhaven station officer Murray Oastler said crews did a great job on containing the blaze quickly.

“Crews were called to the same area on Wednesday evening and encountered four separate fires,” he said.

“There were also outbreaks in the nearby Maleen Street and Nita Place.”

Crews had the latest blaze under control in around half an hour but will remain at the scene from some time to black out the area.

Anyone with any information regarding the blazes or who may have seen anything suspicious in the area are asked to contact Nowra Police on 4421 9699 or Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000.

Robert Crawford, South Coast Register