Be alert to a late fire season – like last year

Be alert to a late fire season – like last year

This time last year (mid-February 2023) we were only a couple of days into a very busy six-week fire season that didn’t end until late March.

Despite an inauspicious early start to the season, with a callout to a grassfire on Murrumbateman Road on September 25th, 2022, conditions had remained mild for close to four months and we had continued to receive good rain. It seemed likely we were not going to have a particularly busy fire season.

All of which is to say that it’s too early to be complacent that the fire season this year is over, although admittedly, despite early forecasts to the contrary, the season has been even milder than last year, so far.

Remember, too, that you still need a permit to start a fire in the open – see Lighting fires in the open for how to obtain one.

Around here, our busy season generally doesn’t kick in until about mid-January, so last year when three fires broke out in the region on Monday January 9th – none of which we were called to – things appeared to be following the typical pattern.

Our captain, Neville, 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]. He was alerting our members to ready themselves. The lush grass growth of the previous couple of years, much appreciated by our livestock producers, had had the attention of fire authorities and our brigade members for some time. As it does again this year.

However, the weather remained relatively mild and the season went quiet again for more than a month, although there was one day each week of high fire danger. Our only callout in those weeks was for a couple of hours to a fire near Collector on February 2nd.

Things changed decisively on February 11th, when the Wee Jasper fires broke out. Late in the season, our busy fire season was just beginning. Our trucks and crews spent several days at Wee Jasper fighting fast-moving fires in tall, dry, debris-ridden grass reaching as high as the truck windows.

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.

Officially the fire danger period doesn’t end until March 31st and that’s because there are many years when our hottest days occur in March, and sometimes our biggest fires, as was the case last year. For six weeks following the Wee Jasper fires, 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. Our volunteer 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.

From the small Collector fire in early February through to the huge Taralga fire in late March it was a busy period for our volunteers. We had at least one crew a week on a fireground or on standby. See 2022-23 – a late fire season for more details.

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.

To achieve this, 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.

(And if I’ve missed anyone, please let me know, as this becomes the basis for our history record and my information about crews largely relies on what appears on ACTIV.)

Sally Kaufmann | February 2024