Deep South fire chief prepares for peak season in WA

The blazes in southern Western Australia earlier this year were of a degree experienced firefighter Wayne Green had never seen before.

The Chief of the Far South District of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services is now preparing for the upcoming season.

“We continue to do our preparation and prepare the communities,” Superintendent Green said.

“Unfortunately, with climate change and the way we see our fires behaving, even fire behavior is unprecedented.”

Corrigin, Denmark, Bridgetown and Narrogin experienced emergency level bushfires in February.

In one weekend, eight houses were destroyed, over 50,000 hectares of bush and farmland were burned, over 1,000 head of cattle were killed and countless sheds and other infrastructure were set on fire.

More than 100 firefighters fought a bushfire near Denmark in February this year.(Provided)

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A large air tanker will arrive early next month from California and will be based in Busselton.

The C-130 is capable of holding approximately 15,000 liters of fire retardant with a cruising speed of 545 kilometers per hour.

Meanwhile, the state government requested that a second air tanker be housed at RAAF Base Pearce.

A red and white airplane on a tarmac
A large air tanker will arrive in Busselton next month, ready for this year’s bushfire season.(ABC Southwest: Sam Bold)

Superintendent Green said a second aerial firefighting tool would mean faster deployment times.

“Potentially up to Esperance, turnaround time can be reduced to around 30 minutes,” he said.

He said the size and rapid refueling capability of Busselton Airport made it more suitable to accommodate the aircraft than smaller regions.

A huge puff of orange smoke rises into the sky from a bushfire.
The Bridgetown fire seen from Little Hill Farm on February 6 this year.(Facebook: Small Hill Farm)

“Albany and our smaller airports, we could land them once and then destroy the runway, it creates a greater risk,” he said.

Superintendent Green said east coast flooding could affect resource allocation.

“Maybe that works in our favor for this summer…we could have access at the start of the season,” he said.

The right time to downgrade

Superintendent Green said ideal conditions for the prescribed burn will continue to be monitored.

“If the conditions are right there, we will continue to burn,” he said.

He said about $38 million had been spent on mitigation works.

Controlled combustion
Prescribed burns are widely planned to lessen the severity of bushfires.(ABC Canberra: Hannah Walmsley)

“It’s been mechanically reducing those fuel loads in the state since 2017,” he said.

In addition to burns, he said working with communities was central to fire safety preparedness.

He said it was about giving private owners a better understanding of how they could manage their properties.

“If the conditions are right, they can burn their leaf piles and fuel loads around their properties,” he said.

Carol N. Valencia