Firefighters brace for long, hot summer

Senior CFA staff Trent McKinnon, Tim Wells, Craig Brittain and Bruce Quarrier will help co-ordinate the organisation's response to the upcoming fire season from the Bendigo Fire Station. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

Senior CFA staff Trent McKinnon, Tim Wells, Craig Brittain and Bruce Quarrier will help co-ordinate the organisation's response to the upcoming fire season from the Bendigo Fire Station. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

RELATED: On scene with the Bendigo CFA

With the fire season almost upon us, Country Fire Authority volunteers and staff in Bendigo are already well-advanced in their preparations for the coming threat.

District 2 operations manager Trent McKinnon said the “fairly intensive preparedness program” included briefings on the long-term seasonal outlook, aircraft capabilities, traffic management, and dialogue with brigades across the district.

“We also usually do one event that’s a bit of a lessons learnt from the year before, so we'll identify an incident, we’ll put together a bit of a day and we’ll do a bus tour or a field tour and take some of our key people out in the field and walk through the incident with the people who were part of the incident management team for it to identify some of the challenges they were faced with,” he said.

Mr McKinnon said the scenario revisited for this spring’s training exercise was an incident in which a truck rolled over and crashed into high voltage power lines in Inglewood in April.

“While it’s not bushfire-related, the same principles apply in terms of incident management and considerations for the incident team and liaison with other agencies so we conducted that earlier in spring with some of our key front-line leaders,” he said.

“That incident occurred in district 20, but we have a close relationship with our neighbouring districts and all other stakeholders so that was fairly successful.”

On days when the fire danger index reaches extreme or code red levels, further layers of short-term preparation are put in place.

“At a certain fire danger index we have a number of things we put in place in terms of readiness,” Mr McKinnon said.

“That means we have our people out in the field, on the ground – our firefighters and tankers and brigades and strike teams are in readiness so we all know where they are and what they’re doing and [that they are] able to respond.”

As for this summer’s fire season, Mr McKinnon said the initial threat would be from grass fires, before the region’s forests dried out in the new year.

“We’ve had obviously increased winter and spring rains and also a cooler spring as well and that’s obviously increased our grass growth across the district so we’ve got large amounts of grass fuels and they’re drying out now but as the season gets longer they’ll fully cure and we’ll have an increased grass fire risk,” he said.

“While the bushfire risk in terms of the forests isn’t quite there at the moment it will be there come mid-to-late-January and then throughout the rest of summer, but our initial focus will be on our grassfire risk so we’re encouraging people to do all their clean up preparation works now, really in preparation for a long hot summer.”

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