Time is running out for controlled burns to reduce the massive fuel load.
Time is running out for controlled burns to reduce the massive fuel load. File

Horror bushfire season tipped

WATER bombing facilities at Massie Aerodrome look set to be improved as the region stares down the barrel of potentially the worst fire season in decades.

With less than six weeks until the official fire season kicks off, Southern Downs Regional councillors at yesterday’s engineering services committee meeting agreed to put $20,000 of its Bush Fire Mitigation budget towards a new 22,000L water tank at the aerodrome.

Previously, Queensland Fire and Rescue Service (QFRS), which operates the Aerial Fire Fighting Facility at the Warwick Aerodrome, used an inflatable reservoir, which council assisted in filling, for its water bombing.

The water tank, which would be located just inside the boundary fence, north of the terminal building, would ensure quicker turnaround for water bombers.

A report put before council yesterday stated the tank would have a pipeline running to the air side of the terminal with hydrants located on the north of the main apron and another east of the taxiway.

While QFRS and Warwick Rural Fire Brigade Group will fund the rest, it has asked council to carry out earthworks and provide some assistance with the installation.

At yesterday’s engineering services meeting, Cr Cameron Gow said he would fully support the upgrades and while Cr Peter Blundell agreed, he asked what else will need to be done to protect the region this fire season.

“Everybody is feeling at the moment this will be the biggest fire year in some time,” he said.

Engineering director Peter See said so far it had been too wet for council staff to carry out clearing but there were plans to move work forward this year because of the huge fire load.

He said he would prepare an update on bushfire plans for next week’s general meeting.

With the massive grass load across the region from the summer rain – and reduced numbers of grazing livestock as a secondary issue – the Queensland Rural Fire Service is likewise bracing for an almost unprecedented fire risk to life and property.

Acting area director for Toowoomba region Michael Patch yesterday conceded there was now only a “limited window of opportunity” for landowners and government agencies to conduct controlled burns to reduce potential bushfire “fuel”.

“The problem is that we have continued to have some falls of rain across the Downs and coupled with gusty winds at times it has just not been possible to get many burns going,” he said.

“I have rural brigade guys down that way who have been trying to start fires and they are telling me it’s all but impossible to start anything, with the moisture content being what it is.

“There have been some limited burns at Girraween and Inglewood and out at Durakai forest west of Warwick but not a lot elsewhere.”

Mr Patch said the “official” fire season would come with the start of September, carrying over into early to mid-October, a period where hot and dry north-westerly winds prevailed and could fan flames.

“We are in a scenario where we have had up to 20 years of drought and the normal pattern is ‘drought-flood-fire’,” he said.

“But we have local area plans in place, our volunteer strength remains at last year’s level and we can bring in strike teams from outside the Darling Downs region if necessary.”

He admitted councils and fire authorities had the power to order landowners to conduct fuel reduction burns but such a drastic step had not yet been taken.

He said agencies such as Queensland Rail and National Parks and Wildlife were responsible for controlled burns on their own lands, with councils in charge of maintaining fire access trails in hard to access bush areas.

He said a fire managers’ meeting last Friday in Warwick had identified “high-risk” zones but was unable to provide specific locations other than Massie.

Crews already out with large grass fire

The Warwick and Dalby regions were yesterday rated as high-risk zones for grass fires, with seven rural and two urban crews attending a 50-hectare blaze off Cactus Ridge Road, at Rogers Creek, west of Warwick in the afternoon.

The cause is as yet unknown, but the first calls came in about 2.30pm and strong westerly winds caused an initial rapid spread of the fire. Rural fire-fighters were last night on the scene monitoring for spot fires and more dampening down may be required this morning.

A Queensland Fire and Rescue spokesman said at first the fire was “flying across the grass” with the wind, but crews were aided when it went into a gully which slowed its spread.

Are we ready?

Warwick and Stanthorpe regions have a combined total of 26 volunteer rural fire brigades

Combined Warwick area brigades have 566 listed volunteer firefighters, Stanthorpe area has 503

Landowners must have a permit to conduct a controlled burn – for information on how to apply go to www.ruralfire.qld.gov.au or call the Toowoomba rural fire operations office on 4616 1945

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