Australia prepares for major fire hazard | Pacific Beat

Australia prepares for major fire hazard

Australia prepares for major fire hazard

Updated 7 January 2013, 12:33 AEST

Fire agencies in Australia's south-east are preparing for the possibility of days of extreme bushfire risk across several states.

A lingering heatwave has pushed temperatures in some towns above 45 degrees Celsius, and high temperatures are forecast all week. In NSW, authorities are worried lightning storms will ignite fires, as the state braces for the worst bushfire conditions in three years. In Victoria, firefighters have brought a large fire in the state's south-west under control. Fire fighting resources are being juggled, with Victorian and NSW emergency workers heading to Tasmania to help out.

Presenter: Will Ockenden

Speakers: Shane Miller, volunteer fire-fighter with Victoria's Country Fire Authority; Stuart Ellis, Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council

OCKENDEN: Shane Miller is a volunteer fire-fighter from Victoria's Country Fire Authority, based near the town of Emerald in the Dandenong Ranges. Today, he'll be fighting fires on the Tasman Peninsula.

MILLER: Most of the other states in Australia at some stage or another have come given us a hand, and it's only fair that we reciprocate and come down and give them a hand.

OCKENDEN: He's one of 33 Victorian fire-fighters, drafted in to give local Tasmanian crews a rest.

MILLER: As we flew in there's still an awful lot of smoke coming up over a fairly big area, so we're just going to give them a bit of a break, let some of their guys stand down and go home and see how they've faired, because they all live in the area as well.

OCKENDEN: With forecasts of high temperatures, strong winds and low humidity, the fire risk in south-eastern Australia is tipped to reach extreme levels.

Shane Miller says he'll be in Tasmania for a week, even if fires break out back home in Victoria.

MILLER: Well, we certainly won't be pulled out of here to be sent back to the Dandenongs. There's adequate surge capacity in the Dandenongs. If anything happens up there, the guys from other parts of the state that aren't affected will be doing what we're doing, going across to lend a hand.

OCKENDEN: There are seven specialists from the the NSW Rural Fire Service, and 64 Victorian fire emergency personnel helping in Tasmania. Plus a plane and couple of helicopters.

ELLIS: Across Australia, people need to be alert to the fire danger threat.

OCKENDEN: Stuart Ellis heads the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, the peak body for the fire-fighting agencies. He says resources aren't being spread too thinly.

ELLIS: The agencies make a very careful assessment before they move any personnel interstate and so those states are still very well covered.

OCKENDEN: What's the risk if there are several fires in several states, will there be enough resources to fight them or will they will be spread to thin?

ELLIS: No, I don't think so. The Australian Fire Services are well resourced. There are large numbers of firefighters, both aid and volunteer.

OCKENDEN: Tasmania is unlikely to get help from Erickson Skycrane water-bombing helicopters. Capable of carrying 9,000 litres of water, they've played a huge part in defending land and property. Stuart Ellis says there are six in Australia, but none in Tasmania.

ELLIS: And there are some significant fuel management issues, fuel can't come across on the ferry. You need a significant fuel tanker to manage the Erickson. They operate a number of other aircraft, which are also very capable and support firefighters on the ground.

OCKENDEN: So Tasmania had no option. It was never really going to get the helicopter Skycrane in any circumstances?

ELLIS: It is feasible, but logistically, it's quite a significant challenge.

OCKENDEN: There are about 50 fires burning in NSW, as the state gets ready for fire conditions not seen since 2009. In South Australia, a handful of fires are still burning, and firefighters in Victoria are still battling a major bushfire near the Lower Glenelg National Park in the state's south-west.

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