Looking at the record rainfall we’ve had across the ACT in the past month, it’s understandable you might think bushfires aren’t a top concern coming into summer.
But the ACT Emergency Services Agency has warned us not to become complacent as the official bushfire season kicked off today (1 November).
ACT Rural Fire Service Chief Officer Rohan Scott said while the wet weather had delayed the bushfire season’s start by a month, there was still a danger when we reached the warmer months.
“Grass fires will be our biggest risk in the ACT,” he said.
“[We currently have] ideal conditions for grass to grow, so we’re going to get significant growth with significant height and density in that grass.
“When we get into the hotter, drier months of summer that will start to cure [dry off], and the grass season will be quite significant due to that growth.”
While forest fires weren’t as much of a concern for the ACT this season, grass fires had their own dangers.
“They can start and develop quite quickly; they’re very wind-driven,” Chief Officer Scott said.
“It only takes a couple of days of windy, hot conditions for that grass to cure.”
The wet meant some bushfire mitigation activities had become difficult, such as burning off.
However, volunteers and workers were preparing the land as well as they could.
“There’s slashing, there’s grazing, there’s spraying off invasive weeds, so there are other activities that can occur,” Chief Officer Scott said.
The saturated soils and run-off meant emergency crews were also aware the ground could make it harder for them to actually fight fires.
“The other problem we have, if we do get some fires and it’s still a little bit wet, is the potential for our vehicles to be bogged,” Chief Officer Scott said.
“We’re educating and working with our volunteers to come up with strategies to prevent them from actually chasing a fire, and then being able to suppress it in a safe way which actually protects both them and the ACT.”
But they couldn’t be fully prepared without the community’s help.
Everyone has been urged to complete or update their Survival Plan and make sure those in your home fully understand it.
Preparations to make to your home included clearing material that could burn, trimming trees and shrubs, clearing out your gutters and putting together a home emergency kit.
Chief Officer Scott said this was vital not only to protect yourself better this bushfire season but for the seasons to come.
“If it’s not this year, it might be next year or the year after that. It’s not a matter of if but when,” he said.
“Now is the perfect opportunity to review your emergency plan or actually download and prepare one with your family.
“It’s not just about preparing your property for bushfire. We are also in the hazardous storm season, so prepare your property for storm and fire.”
The ACT was also rolling out the new Australian Fire Danger Rating System (AFDRS), which was launched on 1 September.
Canberrans will soon see mobile trailers featuring the system, while the fixed signs will be updated in the coming weeks.
The trailers could also be mobilised at 20 different locations across Canberra displaying the rating to areas of concern as they arose.
Chief Officer Scott said this meant the messaging would be consistent no matter where you were.
“Whether at work or holidaying anywhere around Australia, that sign will be the same, the messaging’s the same and the call to action’s the same,” he said.
The new AFDRS had four levels of risk with corresponding actions for the community to take:
- Moderate – plan and prepare
- High – be ready to act
- Extreme – take action now to protect your life and property
- Catastrophic – for your survival, leave bushfire risk areas now.
Emergency Services Minister Mick Gentlemen encouraged everyone to become familiar with the new warning system.
“It gives you the opportunity to look and be prepared for the fire danger this year,” he said.
“I encourage all Canberrans to take the time now to understand the new fire danger rating system and make a plan for days of elevated fire risk.”