2022-23 – a late fire season

There were no fires or other emergencies in the brigade area but our members were still kept busy.

In the years we call normal, the fire season in our region starts off near the middle of January.

Despite a callout to a grass fire at Nanima in late September 2022, which did not augur well for the upcoming season, the norm held, and the hot weather eventually started right on cue, as did the fires.

On Monday January 9th, three fires broke out in the region on the one day. As our captain, Neville M, commented on ACTIV late that afternoon: “The grass fire season kicked off today in the Southern Tablelands with three fires by 5pm in the area” [Jeir, Goulburn, Bango]. Things appeared to be following a typical pattern and he was alerting our members to ready themselves.

Until then the season had been relatively quiet but the lush grass growth of the previous couple of years, much appreciated by our livestock producers, had nevertheless had the attention of fire authorities and our brigade members for some time.

Most country people know that warm, dry weather will cure (dry) green grass quickly, leaving it tinder-dry. (Tinder being a once-common term for anything dry and easily flammable – in earlier times, when it was necessary to start a fire on a daily basis, a tinderbox was a common accessory: a wooden or metal box that held flint and steel, for creating a spark, and some form of tinder, carried in the pocket or kept by the kitchen hearth.)

In January 2023, with the grass in the district reaching tinder stage, it was only a matter of the right weather occurring.

Although the season was not characterised by the unending days of 30-plus temperatures that we associate with summer in the district, the temperature did start to go up during January, with one high fire danger day a week for the rest of the month.

For our brigade, however, although we were called out for a couple of hours to a fire near Collector in early February, our busy season didn’t begin in earnest until February 11th and the outbreak of a running grass fire at Wee Jasper. From then it stretched through to late March, during which there were several spells of high or extreme fire danger days and some significant grass fires lasting days, even weeks, rather than hours, although still none in our own brigade area.

We sent multiple crews to all the big fires and to a number of smaller ones. On some of the extreme days we had crews standing up at the shed or on standby at home/work to respond at a moment’s notice – often on the weekend. Brigade members commit far more time to protecting the community than just the hours spent on the fireground, strenuous and lengthy as they may be.

But fires weren’t all of it. In recent years, RFS brigades have increasingly become expected to undertake emergency response duties in addition to firefighting. Months before the fire season took off, in August 2022, one of our brigade members deployed to Newcastle twice with RFS teams assisting NSW DPI ​BioSecurity ​during the widely publicised ​outbreak of Varroa mite​.

Then, throughout October, November and December of 2022, with widespread flooding across the state as flood waters moved through the river systems, we received requests for volunteers to join RFS strike teams assisting with flood clean ups at Euston, Balranald and Deniliquin (multiple requests). Our members responded to two of the Deniliquin requests.

Our fire callouts started with that pre-season September callout:


    • Monday Sep 25, 2022: At 4.28pm, a grass fire on Murrumbateman Rd Nanima. We sent the Cat 7.


In all, during the fire season itself, for seven or so weeks from early February 2023 to late March, we had at least one crew a week on a fireground or on standby, specifically:


    • Thursday, Feb 2nd, with the fire danger rating (FDR) at extreme and a total fire ban (toban) in place: A running grass fire broke out in the early afternoon, east of Collector. We sent the Cat 2 with three crew.
    • Saturday, Feb 11th: FDR high, a toban declared. A grass fire broke out at Wee Jasper about 3.30pm. We dispatched the Cat 1 with full crew immediately and by 6.15pm were putting together night crews for the Cat 1 and Cat 7. By that time, Neville advised the fire was “ripping along, about 1,000 ha burnt”.
    • Sunday, Feb 12th: We provided another crew for Wee Jasper.By late Sunday, the fire was “close to being contained if not already”, according to Neville, and overnight crews were not required. The fire “was most likely started by lightning from the storms” a couple of nights earlier, Neville advised.

      Eventually, the fire burnt out more than 2,000 ha. See John S’s photo below/left/right, which gives some sense of the extent of the blaze. As Gareth E remarked a few days later, “The grass was up to the truck windows, leaving the trucks dirty and covered in debris.”

      Panorama of the Wee Jasper burn scar, a fire most likely started by lightning. In all, more than 2,000 ha were burnt out. Note the small fire unit (circled). Photo: John S.


The following Saturday, Feb 18th, the FDR was extreme and a toban was in place. We stood up a crew at the shed from midday to 4pm.They weren’t called out, and the shed got a good cleanout.


    • Eight days later, Sunday Feb 26th: Again, FDR extreme and a toban in place. We had a crew standing up at the shed from 2pm. An hour later, the Cat 1 with a full crew was dispatched to a house fire in Valance Dr, Murrumbateman, and we immediately called for drivers, crew leaders and crews in case we needed to reinforce the Cat 1.There was also a grass fire in the region that afternoon, although we weren’t called to it.
    • Nine days later, Tuesday, March 7th: FDR high. A running grass fire broke out on Oakey Creek Rd, Wallaroo, in the late afternoon. A crew in YR9 responded immediately.
    • Just over a week later, Thursday March 16th, the FRD was extreme and a toban was in place: At 9am we asked (via ACTIV) for a standby crew able to respond immediately if required.No-one was needed that day, but late in the afternoon the biggest grass fire of the season broke out some kilometres north of Taralga and northeast of Crookwell, in the Upper Lachlan district, close to Caraweela and Craig’s Rd.

      At 5.16pm we were calling for crews to go to this fire the following day.

      In the next few hours the fire burnt out 1,000ha, and about 140 firefighters, 35 trucks, seven aircraft and two large tankers had been deployed to the fireground. Smoke from the fire could be seen from the international space station.

      As the days wore on, this fire was referred to variously as the Taralga fire, the Craig’s Rd fire and the Caraweela fire.

      By Friday morning the fire had reportedly burnt out 3,000 hectares of farm and bushland, including destroying homes and other structures.

    • For the next two days, Friday–Saturday, March 17th–18th, with the FDR moving from high on Friday to extreme with toban on Saturday, we provided crews for both day shifts (nominally, 7am – 7pm) at Taralga. Friday was a long day with crews not returning to the shed until 10pm.Late on Saturday morning we also scrambled two crews, the Cat 2 and the Cat 9, for a running grass fire on Wargeila Rd, Laversock.

      On Thursday and Friday afternoon, two of our members worked in ops in Yass Fire Control as part of the comms team.

    • On Sunday, March 19th: With the FDR still at high and high winds forecast, we stood up a crew at the shed from 1.30pm for a couple of hours. Fortunately, they weren’t called out.
    • A week later, Friday March 24th, one of our members was with the ops team at Yass Fire Control working on comms for the Taralga fire, by this time a declared Section 44 fire.(Section 44 of the Rural Fires Act 1997, under which the Fire Commissioner can declare a State of Emergency for a specific area. Once a fire is declared under S44, statewide firefighting resources can be deployed to the area and the costs of the firefighting operations are met by the government.)


Not including the out-of-season and early season callouts, over those seven busy weeks from early February to late March, we deployed or stood up at least 18 firefighting crews, helping to contain fires that still burnt out thousands of hectares of grass and bushland and, sadly, houses and other structures in some cases. We also had members supporting vital comms activities.

In all, over the entire season and off-season, more than 20 of our members went out or made themselves available to go out, most of them several times: Damien, Darko, Dave B, Dennis H, Gareth, Glenn, Joanne B, John S, Jonathan R, Judy, Kane, Kim, Kylie, Mac, Michael, Neville, Rick, Rod, Scott, Sonia, Stuart, Suzanne and Troy.