Fear and trauma about the upcoming bushfire danger period in the Illawarra is understandable, former fire chief Greg Mullins said.
Smoke and ash shrouded the region during Black Summer, but it escaped the flames and destruction.
Since then, three years of rain, excess growth and wet conditions meant firefighters couldn't conduct planned hazard reduction burns, and it's put the region at risk.
"There's a lot of hysteria and trauma out there," former Fire and Rescue NSW Commissioner Mr Mullins said.
"We need to get back to understanding that most fire seasons are survivable, and you can take actions to protect your home."
Mr Mullins has worked in the Illawarra during his time with FRNSW, he's familiar with the dense bushland on the escarpment and the very strong winds around the landmass that can make fires volatile.
There's only been four triple La Nina years - 1957, 1977, 2001 and right now - and each time "we've swung back to a bad bushfire season immediately".
"We've got very heavy fuel loads in the very locations where historically, we've lost the most homes. Suburbs of Sydney, the Illawarra, Newcastle, Central Coast, not touched by Black Summer," Mr Mullins said.
Mr Mullins has been a volunteer firefighter with the NSW Rural Fire Service since he was 12 years old, and he's urged Illawarra residents to educate themselves on how to protect their family, pets and home now.
"Most people switch off and say 'it will never happen to me'," he said. "Take it seriously. There's huge complacency, but also a growing attitude that the government has to do everything for everyone.
"People need to understand their risks, embrace their risks, and know what to do about it."
"Understand what emergency warnings are when they come up on your phone and treat them very seriously. If you get one of those warnings, it's real and you're in a danger area," Mr Mullins said.
Fires are inevitable, as are days of extreme and catastrophic fire weather, he said.
"Don't fall into the trap of 'oh, this will be another Black Summer and there's nothing we can do'. That's not right, there's lots we can do."
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