A controlled burn on the outskirts of Lismore yesterday evening provided a timely reminder that the bushfire season is almost upon us. It also gave the sunset a stunning, smoky hue.
And the state government has announced new vegetation clearing laws and increased fines for fire-related offences ahead of the bushfire season which starts tomorrow, 1 August (see below).
The ‘official’ bushfire danger period beginning tomorrow means rural landowners around the region will require a permit from their local Rural Fire Service if they need to burn off.
Lismore Fire Brigade commanding officer James Connors told Echonetdaily that last night’s smoke on the horizon was a good reminder that things could heat up over coming months and it was always best to be prepared.
‘We’re anticipating as a consequence of the frosts we’ve had lately that there will be a high incidence of grass fires around the area,’ he said.
‘We’re also anticipating that with an El Nino cycle coming on, which is very dry, it could potentially be a dangerous bushfire period.
Officer Connors said the past four years of heavy rainfall, and the fact there hadn’t been a serious bushfire in the region for decades, meant there was plenty of fuel about.
‘August 1 is the start of the official bushfire danger period and from that day forward you need a permit to light a fire,’ he said.
‘Prior to that date landowners have been able to undertake hazard reduction measures without the need for a permit.’
Lismore’s brigade inspected yesterday’s burn-off following reports of smoke and was satisfied it was under control.
‘There were a number of people in attendance and the property perimeter is ringed by the river,’ officer Connors said.
The Lismore Fire Brigade celebrated its 100th anniversary last December.
Yesterday they raced down the Nimbin Road in a big red fire truck but in the early days it would have been volunteers on a horse-drawn fire cart with 250 foot of hose responding to a potential emergency.
The modern day brigade attended 500 fire and emergency calls last year, as well as taking part in hundreds of community educational activities.
PS: Fires are outlawed at all times in urban areas (unless sausages and common sense are involved!). However, fires are never allowed during a total fire ban.
New clearing laws, fines
Meanwhile, from tomorrow, residents in designated areas will be able to protect their homes from bushfires, with new laws introduced that make it easier to clear trees and vegetation from around their homes.
Minister for Police and Emergency Services Stuart Ayres announced the commencement of the 10/50 vegetation clearing entitlement laws in the Blue Mountains yesterday, along with Member for Blue Mountains Roza Sage and NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.
Mr Ayres said the NSW government was committed to removing regulatory obstacles for home owners to allow them to adequately prepare their home ahead of the 2014/15 bushfire season.
‘By streamlining the processes for people to remove trees and vegetation, these laws are giving people greater flexibility to improve the safety of their homes,’ Mr Ayres said.
‘The new laws allow people in the designated areas to remove trees within 10 metres of their home, and clear vegetation other than trees within 50 metres of their home, provided they comply with the NSW RFS Code of Practice.’
Roza Sage MP said removing the need for assessment or approval will empower home owners to minimise fuel loads around their home in an environmentally responsible way.
RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons reminded residents in the designated areas to understand their obligations and check whether they are in the 10/50 vegetation clearing entitlement area prior to removing vegetation or trees.
‘The 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Code of Practice outlines a number of restrictions which may be relevant, including locations of cultural significance or the slope of their property,’ he said.
The new laws will also apply to schools, childcare centres and hospitals that are situated within the designated areas.
From tomorrow, the RFS will have an online tool available where people can check if they’re in a designated 10/50 vegetation entitlement clearing area. People can enter their address or lot number into the RFS website to see if the new arrangements apply to them.
Copies of the Code of Practice can be obtained from the RFS or downloaded from www.rfs.nsw.gov.au
Mr Ayres also introduced higher penalties for 18 fire-related offences.
‘Among the increases are penalties for littering involving cigarettes and matches, which has doubled to $660 and to $1320 when littering occurs on a day of a Total Fire Ban,’ Mr Ayres said.
‘Fine increases will also target land owners who conduct unlawful hazard reduction burns or fail to extinguish any type of fire.’
Commissioner Fitzsimmons noted the new laws and increased fines have come ahead of what could be a challenging season.
‘Across the north of the state we have already seen windy and dry conditions leading to difficult fires,’ Commissioner Fitzsimmons said.
‘In early July we saw 167 bush and grass fires in just four days. A number of these were on the Mid-North Coast where one shed was destroyed in a fire at Bonny Hills and another burnt some 868 hectares at Great Lakes.’
Twenty-two Local Government Areas (LGAs) commence their Bush Fire Danger Period (BFDP) tomorrow, eight weeks ahead of the statutory Bush Fire Danger Period. They include: Ballina, Byron Kyogle, Lismore, Richmond Valley and Tweed.