Unusually dry soil index points to high-risk fire season
By Rob Koch
Community Emergency Services Manager (left)
A DRY winter means that parts of our shire are now already as dry as last summer as we approach what is expected to be a high-risk fire season.
Low rainfall and the onset of warmer weather means conditions will continue to become even drier at a faster rate than is normal at this time of the year.
This assessment is measured by a ‘soil dryness index’ which correlates to the flammability of vegetation.
Less moisture in the ground means the vegetation above will burn faster and more intensely.
That’s why it is essential for everyone in the shire to comply with the prohibited burning period that will apply from Sunday November 1, and current burning restrictions which began at the start of this month.Read more
Anyone now wanting to light a fire – no matter how small – must first obtain a shire permit with strict conditions which must be adhered to.
Permits generally require at least two independent sources of pressurised water – such as a mobile firefighting unit on the back of a ute.
For example, a single hose supplying water from an electric pump connected to a mains electricity supply is insufficient because a power cut will stop the flow of water.
People who obtain permission to light fires this month are required by law to ensure it is
done correctly – failure to do so may result in an infringement notice or prosecution.
All fires must be carefully watched and managed at all times until they are completely extinguished.
This is particularly important for people with small ‘lifestyle’ bush blocks who may live elsewhere and visit Toodyay only on weekends and holidays.
Most local farmers will have already completed their burning-off and we find it is generally smaller landholders who want to burn at this time of the year.
Volunteer firefighters have arrived at bushfires in recent years to find a locked gate and the owner gone after leaving the smouldering remains of a fire that later re-ignited and burnt out of control.
Police involvement is likely in such cases of negligence.
Bush fire control officers appointed by the shire will assess all applications for permits in line with local conditions.
If issued, a permit lasts up to seven days but that doesn’t automatically mean that a fire can be safely lit at all timMinister gets final report on Toodyay inquiry findingses during that period.
It is essential that anyone with a permit to light a fire should first check local weather conditions before starting.
Local wind forecasts need to be checked to ensure they remain light for the duration of a fire and that no change of direction is predicted.
Some people mistakenly assume that a forecast of rain means it is safe to light a fire but in fact it usually indicates strengthening winds and a change of direction.
Look for low and consistent winds over the entire period of a fire.
I highly recommend that people use the Bureau of Meteorology’s MetEye online weather forecasts to check three-hourly predictions for wind strength and direction, relative humidity and temperature.
Burning should occur according to conditions – not the calendar.
If in doubt, it is better not to burn at all and wait until conditions improve.
I would also like to remind all local property owners that they have until Saturday November 1 to ensure their properties comply with the Shire of Toodyay’s annual Fire-Break Notice.
Perimeter firebreaks are not designed to prevent fires from spreading but to allow safe and ready access for firefighting vehicles responding to emergency callouts.
Firebreak notices also include other requirements such as removing overhanging branches from buildings and maintaining low fuel areas around buildings.
Shire rangers will start checking properties from Sunday November 1.
Ratepayers and occupiers risk fines if they are found to be in breach of their firebreak notices.
Everyone is urged to play their part to help our community prepare for this year’s fire season.
This includes preparing your property, discussing your fire plan with your family and keeping abreast of restrictions, alerts and warnings.
Visit emergency.wa.gov.au and listen to ABC local radio to stay abreast of Total Fire Ban information, alerts and warnings.
The shire’s free SMS service provides information on harvest, vehicle movement and hot works bans, other restrictions imposed by bush fire control officers or changes to prohibited or restricted burning periods – simply SMS the word BANS to 0408 017 439 to subscribe.
Your efforts can greatly help our dedicated volunteer firefighters to keep our community safe and protect lives and property.
Anyone interested in joining a volunteer bush fire brigade to learn valuable new skills with a great team of like-minded people should contact their local brigade or the shire.
More information is available on the shire website at toodyay.wa.gov.au and the WA Department of Fire and Emergency Services at dfes.wa.gov.au.