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The fire season ahead...
Having endured over 10 years of drought, the outlook for 2011-12 is quite different. We have seen a return to normalised rainfall across much of Victoria. In fact, many locations have seen above average or very much above average rain over the last 12 months.
Across Victoria, soils are moist and at maximum capacity. The weather is warming, heralding a time of vigorous grass and crop growth. There is a high probability of significant grass fuel loads this summer. I fear that we face a significantly higher grassfire risk than we have seen in Victoria for many years.
Senior CFA officers recently met to discuss this emerging grassfire risk. We noted that in preparing for the fire season it is important that:
- Fuel loads are monitored and other agencies are informed of emerging risks through Municipal Integrated Fire Management Planning Committees.
- Public education and engagement activities target the most "at risk" communities (which may be different to those at risk in previous years).
- We encourage early preparation of firebreaks along roadsides and on farm properties. Spraying of grass breaks should be planned now.
- Plan to meet with farmer firefighters to check their equipment and brief them on fireground management and communications arrangements.
We should reinforce throughout CFA and our partners, the characteristics of severe grassfires:
- Under severe, extreme and Code Red conditions, grassfires will be wind driven and may burn at a rate of spread in excess of 20 k.p.h.
- History shows that the majority of life and property loss in grassfires occurs after the south west wind change impacts the fireground.
- This reinforces the critical importance of issuing quick and accurate warnings to the community and issuing Red Flag Warnings for firefighters in advance of a wind change impacting the fireground.
- Therefore, wind change progression must be continuously monitored and communicated to the public and to firefighters.
- Grassfire tactics should put priority to knocking down the headfire (from the safety of "the black") if this is possible. If fire behaviour is too intense for a headfire attack, then concentrate resources on suppressing the eastern flank (before the south west wind change occurs).
- Consolidate extinguished fire edge with bare earth firebreaks from graders or earth moving equipment as rapidly as possible.
- Under severe, extreme and Code Red conditions, backburns ahead of a headfire will almost certainly be doomed to failure.
- Specific emphasis must be given to rapidly establishing local command and control arrangements. This includes establishing an Operations Point on the fireground from where firm command and control of resources can be initiated within an incident management team.
Many recent members to CFA over the last 10 years or so will have had significant experience in forest, plantation and scrub fires. It is possible that many members may not have had recent experience with multiple fast moving grassfires.
I urge you to plan skills updates in grass fire methods, tactics and strategies. This can be done at crew, brigade, group, district and regional levels. "Table-top" discussion exercises, coupled with fireground simulation exercises and TEWTS (Tactical Exercises Without Troops) are an excellent way of practicing, simulating and learning.
Remember that prior planning and preparation prevents poor performance.
You do terrific work. Thank you for what you do. Come home safe. And keep your rake-hoes sharp!