REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia: Earth, wind and fire - but not enough water

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by South Coast Register editor John Hanscombe.

Down here on the South Coast of NSW, we've had a steaming gutful.

As it does every August, the wind has been howling - icy, dry westerlies that fray nerves, pinch faces, spook horses and fan fires. There's been the odd, tantalising hint of spring but for every warm, calm day, come three in which the wind blows mercilessly.

We know them as the August winds and generally suffer them quietly but this season, they're bringing echoes of bad times.

Just a year ago, as the August winds howled more fiercely than usual, bushfires jumped their seasonal, autumn-winter containment lines and bore down on population centres - Bomaderry in the northern Shoalhaven and and Burrill Lake in the south. While the region dodged a bullet in terms of property loss, these were scary times, marked by tragedy.

An exhausted volunteer firefighter grabs some shut-eye at Ulladulla Harbour during the height of the 2018 bushfire emergency.

An exhausted volunteer firefighter grabs some shut-eye at Ulladulla Harbour during the height of the 2018 bushfire emergency.

Just an hour after we interviewed him, helicopter pilot Alan Tull lost his life while water bombing a blaze south of Milton. His death sheeted home the seriousness of the fire threat and how life can be snatched away in an instant.

Further south, the Yankees Gap fire was also causing havoc. It went on to burn for 44 days. Janet Reynolds, who lost her home during the blaze, reflects on the close call she had and how quickly the bush has regenerated.

And this year, in similar windy circumstances, fires flared up again in the Shoalhaven, once more fanned by strong westerly winds. Luckily, the RFS quickly gained the upper hand this time. In credibly, some of the blazes appear to have been deliberately lit.

In the Port Macquarie area, on a very high fire danger day, crews were dealing with 18 fires. Yes, 18 fires on a winter's day, when many of us were still shivering.

It's amazing that the same cold front that drops snow on the Brindebella range outside Canberra, fans fires elsewhere.

A resident is evacuated from his Princes Highway home as fire bears down in Bomaderry. The August 2018 fire emergency got national attention because it flared up in winter.

A resident is evacuated from his Princes Highway home as fire bears down in Bomaderry. The August 2018 fire emergency got national attention because it flared up in winter.

Every year, the bushfire danger period seems to get longer as temperatures rise and meaningful rainfall remains elusive. There's a real possibility the bushfire threat will be year-round.

Already, 12 areas - Armidale, Bega Valley, Eurobodalla, Glen Innes Severn, Inverell, Kempsey, Mid Coast, Nambucca, Port Macquarie Hastings, Tenterfield, Uralla and Walcha - started their bushfire danger period from August 1.

Yet still, foolishness around fire will persist. In the Wimmera, a bloke who assumed that because it was raining, lighting a fire out in the open would be okay, is paying the cost of that decision. He did not realise he was cooking snags on a total fire ban day and copped a hefty fine for doing so.

In Queensland, which saw catastrophic fires late last year, a political brawl is under way over whether the state government has sufficiently funded its Rural Fire Brigades to meet worsening bushfire conditions.

And in Tasmania, where a massive fire raged for months last summer, destroying thousands of hectares of pristine wilderness, firefighters are calling for a rapid response capability to attack blazes in remote areas.

No one wants to cry wolf about fire danger but it is clear and it is present. The NSW RFS Fires Near Me app has been downloaded 260,000 times, so clearly many people realise the peril we face.

Perhaps the squawking shock jock (or should that be sock jock?) Alan Jones needs to wrap his laughing gear around that instead of taking potshots at Jacinda Adern, who's trying to do something about climate change. 2GB's shrill windsock ought to be sounding the alarm about the ever growing bushfire danger period, the calamitous dividend of ignoring our changing climate.

John Hanscombe

Editor, South Coast Register

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