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Risk all too real

Friday, 28th October, 2011

By Paula Doran

Weather forecasters are predicting a wetter than average end to 2011, but firefighters warn that doesn’t mean properties in the far west are off the hook for fire risk.

In the most recent release of the Bureau of Meteorology’s national outlook, forecasters said the chance of a wetter season from November to January was likely over most of NSW, Queensland and South Australia.

A persistently warm Indian Ocean is the driving force behind the outlook, and the BOM said that’s also consistent with the developing La Nina in the Pacific Ocean.

Chris Favelle, manager for the Rural Fire Service in the far west, said the forecast rain had not put the Service on hold, and urged landholders to remain vigilant against lightning strikes.

“We’ve had the biggest start to a fire season in ten years here and while it’s good to hear there may be rain coming, that could also mean more storms and lightning strikes,” he said.  

“What we need is the rain to come with the storms, not just the lightning, because that’s where a lot of our fires start.”

Mr Favelle said there had been widespread fires from September 27 to early October, and cited one of the biggest on-station blazes at Quinyambie Station across the SA border where up to 90,000 hectares was burnt.

“We had fifteen to twenty people working to contain that blaze, putting in fire breaks etcetera, but they had trouble because there were sand dunes with a lot of a fuel on them which they couldn’t drive through.

“We’ve really got to be ready for more lightning strikes in the coming months because the fuel loadings are so high. The ignition load is there and we saw what that could do in September.”

Mr Favelle said while higher than average rainfall would be a relief, that would then create another high fire risk season next summer.  

“It’s all a cycle; if we get rain it’s just going to mean the fire risk next year is bigger.”

On Bollard’s Lagoon, west of Cameron’s Corner, station owner Grant Reicke said he was still nervous every time there was lightning after suffering two major fires on the cattle property in the past month.

“We were hit by lightning on September 27 which started a fire and then again on Friday the 14th of October. The first one we got under control fairly quickly but the second one got out of control and kept going until the 19th.”

The property lost 200,000 hectares worth of feed in those five days but Mr Reicke said that as yet there were no known stock losses.

“It was looking like a beautiful season  - the grass was just beautiful.  It would have taken us through for feed until April next year.

“We’ll be alright now if we get rain, but if we don’t get rain we’ll have to find agistment or destock.”

Mr Reicke said the family had been expecting the summer to be a difficult one for fires.  

“But that second one really got us. In all there were eight fires that all started at the same time. And then we had 75 kilometre winds the day after they started and we just lost control.”

He said 10 people including staff from the Moomba gas fields and a nearby pipeline crew fought to control the blaze for five days.  

“The worst of it came within six kilometers of the homestead.”


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