As our country warms to blisteringly hot days of 40 degrees or more during the months ahead, which the climate scientists are predicting will contain little or no rain, are you and your family well prepared? 

Countries north of the equator who are emerging from brutal summer encounters caused by unexpected climate events, have not be able to manage very well.

Insufficient spring rain and rising daily temperatures are already causing plants to wilt, grass to die in parks and yards, plus sudden high winds promise days of breathless humidity and danger to come.

Such conditions have been building across the Mid North Coast during Spring and into summer and it’s not looking good for another possible damaging bush fire season. 

Days for burning off have been limited. There are fears growth in National Parks is out of control due to limited clearing. 

Therefore, before making plans first consider the conditions where you live. Are you in an area surrounded by bush? You are at risk, bush fires can be hot, intense and throw out burning embers. If you live in grassy areas and built-up areas bush fires can start off small, send out sparks which quickly ignite unseen under roofs. (Some fires have started in homes and garages from exploding lithium batteries. Because where bikes items with one are stored.)

If you live along coastal places like Old Bar, Forster/Tuncurry, fires can catch onto coastal scrub and move quickly into bonfire proportions if not contained.

If you live on a farm with large acres such as those outside our towns, fires spread, aided by strong winds, over great distances and if you live on the sides of hills, think Old Soldiers Road and Tallwoods at Blackhead. Remember fires travel uphill very fast. It is an accepted fact that for every 10 degrees of slope the fires can double in speed.

How some previous black summer fires escaped and got out of control range from; a fellow burning rubbish who went indoors for a quick bite to eat, someone welding outdoors and sparks caught in dry grass, to oily rags and cans of petrol in a shed that overheated and exploded. A floating ember landing on a rooftop or in a gutter filled with dry leaves can go up in minutes before being noticed. 

Given the conditions so far this year and last, fire reduction burns have been limited. 

Are there enough fire fighting planes to “bomb” water in remote areas? 

Volunteers are valued and needed. The ADF personnel should be utilised and trained as ancillary support. 

Volunteer fire Captain Rob Derbyshire at the Rainbow Flat brigade, says that despite our continuing dry weather he still hopes the bush fires threatening us now may not be as bad as they were in October 2019. 

“That’s because the fuel load is not as big as it was then,” he says. “However, we were backburning at Bulahdelah not long ago, assisting their local brigade and NSW National Parks and found that already the undergrowth is very dry so the fire quickly took off.” Not wishing to scare us, he is implying there’s no need to be complacent, just be aware.

“We must be well prepared because we hope a fire doesn’t develop like the 2019 bush fires which were so intense after so many drought years,” he adds.

Fire warnings on mobile apps, a newsletter in the letterbox or a ‘get ready ‘day with your local bush fire volunteers, written information and mini radios supplied by MidCoast Fire Control by ringing 1300 643262, are all good preparations because this year we simply must do better. 

Rob also stresses taking responsibility for your property as much as you can is absolutely essential.

I watched 23 fire trucks rush up the Rainbow Flat estate where I live in October 2019, on a day that recorded 40 degrees. Wind was blowing in all directions and we lost 12 houses with a further number severely fire affected. It was devastating. What was particularly difficult for the firefighters was having to choose what properties they could save and those they had to leave.

This showed me you can’t just sit back and rely only on your local volunteer fire brigade. It is important to begin by drawing up an evacuation plan including keeping your precious papers and family pictures packaged so you can grab them and run if needed.

Check regularly that your property is free of rubbish and fallen branches, make sure trees and undergrowth are well clear of the walls of your house. Clean the gutters, block their outlet with sand-filled socks and if embers are being driven by wind, water your roof and fill up your gutters. Preparation like these will hopefully save your house from burning down. 

New fire danger rating signs are now installed throughout our state and are an effective reminder. “Moderate” means plan and prepare; “High” means be ready to act, ”Extreme” means take action immediately to protect your life and property, “Catastrophic” means leave bush fire risk areas immediately.

If you have a water supply like a swimming pool, tank or dam, tell the firefighters by displaying an SWS plate at your property boundary which is visible from the road. The brigade will supply these signs. 

For residents who are elderly, disabled, those with limited support from nearby family, relatives, friends and other services, are eligible for a one-off free service called AIDER. This enables you to have work done on your property including pruning, mowing or slashing, cleaning gutters, thinning and removal of vegetation. Ring 87414955 to check if you qualify. 

Another important contact for everyone is the Bush Fire Information Centre on 1800 679737. Hazards Near Me is one of several useful mobile apps.

Before the fire arrives sit down with your family and discuss when you might leave if fire threatens your property, decide where you might go, how you will get there and what you plan to take. Think blankets, pillows, first aid kit, medicines, water, food and any personal items including towel, tooth brush, tooth paste and any essential personal items you may need. 

Decide who will call relatives to tell them you are leaving and who will ring once you arrive safely. 

If you are planning to stay, turn off gas mains and any gas bottles, move your large animals on to well grazed or ploughed acres, put your domestic pets, cats in one room, dogs in another with water bowls, or take them with you. Keep an eye out for any spot fires near your house and connect your hoses so as to put them out immediately. As the fire creeps closer disconnect hoses and put them somewhere safe with any other fire fighting equipment until the fire passes.

Inside your house, close doors, windows and vents, fill baths, sinks, buckets, and any bins with water. Place your ladder next to the roof hole so you can climb up with a torch and check there are no embers or sparks in the rafters. Soak towels and rugs and lay them across external doorways and move any furniture away from the windows.

If you are determined to save your house as I was during the last big fires, then move to the room on the opposite side of the house as the fire approaches and make sure you know which exits are close by. For goodness, sake, don’t forget to release your dead lock doors and large windows if you need to escape.

The fire front will pass over within 5 to 10 minutes depending on the wind, so when it’s safe to go out, check round the house frequently for fires, including under the house, deck, stairs and windowsills.

Keep your small free solar powered radio tuned to local ABC midcoast radio, 95.5 on the dial, to stay informed during the crisis. 

Whatever you do don’t think the emergency is over when the firefighters have gone and everything around you appears burnt to cinders. 

This is false safety. Fire spotting can spring up suddenly the next day or following evening. Use the hoses to spray your house, roof and nearby gardens with water and make sure you put those fires out, even if they appear harmless and far from the house.

Just remember 90 percent of homes are said to be destroyed or seriously damaged by burning embers which can travel many kilometres from the actual fire. Think Hillville and Possum Brush when huge fires sent flames and embers up and down the Pacific Highway and then further inland in all directions including jumping the highway during the summer of 2019/20. 

It might be a wise idea to carry a fire extinguisher in your car. Spotting a small grassfire at the side of a road, you can extinguish it asap!

Our volunteer bush firefighters are an important defense and without hesitation rush to help each other wherever fires spring up throughout our region. It is not unusual to see half a dozen brigades with their trucks in one location. They also willingly help with problems during the year in their communities. 

Though members are often older these days, younger people are also registering to join local brigades. Cathy Baker, the Captain at Tuncurry, started when she was 12, Isabella May from Rainbow Flat signed up this year and she’s just 14. Other captains like Bruce Annetts at Tinonee, Leo Fransen at Diamond Beach and Rusty Donnelly, at Green Point have been long standing members of brigades for years. 

We thank them all including the regular fire brigade units from the bottom of our hearts.

However as the Boy Scouts know and say . . . “Be Prepared.”

Sherry Stumm.

PS Please report any suspicious activity or persons of interest who maybe an arsonist. You’d be surprised who can be!

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