Autumn fires warning

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Camera IconCredit: Sean Blocksidge

Autumn in the Capes is increasingly a time for fire alerts, authorities warn, with “numerous” spot fires sparked into life by wild winds at the weekend.

Among the accidental blazes was a case of an illegal campfire lit by campers on the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge, as well as other fires found unattended within Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions national parks.

Wallcliffe Volunteer Bushfire Brigade reported five call-outs, and said Busselton crews attended more than 30 incidents.

Shire of Augusta-Margaret River community emergency services manager Adam Jasper said dormant burn piles were the main reason for a rash of incidents which kept volunteers busy, despite declaring a total fire ban for the weekend.

DBCA firefighters provided aerial surveillance.

“The majority (of fires) occ-urred on the Saturday as a result of increasing winds in advance of the approaching tropical low that impacted the region on Sunday evening,” Mr Jasper said.

“Almost all these incidents attended were as a result of old burn piles reigniting or escaping from boundaries.

“There were also calls from residents seeking assistance with extinguishing burns prior to the arrival of the weather.”

The incidents were a reminder of early June last year, when brigades were deployed for a similar spate of fires fanned by winds, which lacked the rainfall dumped on the Capes this week.

Last year’s fires included three prescribed burns which escaped from Forest Product Commission sites. Shire of Augusta-Margaret River president Ian Earl said the past two years “were pretty bad” for autumn fires.

He believed more fuel control burns were needed to reduce risks.

“The concerns are around clowns who light and leave campfires on the coast or in the forest at any time, but particularly when there is a total ban on,” Cr Earl said.

“Warm winds always kick up a few fires, but this should not stop us getting mitigation work done.”

Mr Jasper thanked the majority of residents for acting on storm advice.

“Your efforts helped us avoid a repeat of June 6 last year where similar conditions caused the highest number of call-outs to our VBFB on record,” he said.

“The gazetted fire dates/periods are under constant review, especially during those shoulder periods (restricted) and the issuing of the section 46 notice is an example of the strategies that can be put in place to address the extended fire season.”

Fire authorities continued to discuss season dates, but allowing residents to reduce fuel loads was important, provided they considered weather conditions at least two days ahead.

DBCA said it monitored conditions rather than follow fixed fire-season dates.

“In recognition of this approach, seasonal employees are engaged from September to May each season to bolster capacity to undertake prescribed burning and respond to bushfires in the region,” a spokesperson said.

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