The first day of September marks the month-early start of the 2019-2020 Bush Fire Danger Period in the local region, after numerous escaped burns in bone-dry conditions - including a 22 hectare blaze on the outskirts of Mudgee on Saturday.
Aircraft were required to support the fight, approximately 5-6 kilometres from Mudgee in the area of Black Springs Road and Ulan Road near Huntington Estate winery, due to limited access within the vineyards.
"It was attended by multiple RFS units from across the district, as well as Fire and Rescue NSW Mudgee and Gulgong, and was started by an escaped private landholder burn and fanned by the strong winds we had blow through town on Saturday," Inspector Troy Gersback, of the Cudgegong RFS District, said.
"The initial call came through just before 11.30am and we had crews out there until about midnight to mop up and patrol, as well as Sunday and Monday. We had a fixed-wing aircraft in to help ground crews contain the fire."
Huntington Estate owner, Nicky Stevens, commended the work of the firefighters particularly because they're volunteers. And added that the incident needs to be a "wake-up call".
"Immense gratitude to the RFS, they give up their family time and their work time to put themselves into dangerous situations to help save the community - they are amazing people, they're volunteering on the weekend then showing up to work on Monday morning.
"The sacrifice they make is extraordinary and they are heroes. We're so grateful for them because they saved our winery.
"This has to be a wake-up call for the whole community to get serious plans in place, because it's only August. We need to act, we need to reduce hazards everywhere and think very hard before we burn anything."
We are suspending permits straight off the bat from the first of September. The reasons for doing this are the ongoing dry conditions and the declining availability of water.Superintendent Troy Porter, of the NSW RFS Cudgegong District
Resident Jess Wade, whose family property 'Abercorn' was extensively damaged, said it was frightening to watch.
"It feels heartbreaking to see it like this. It's just black everywhere. It was scary. But more the fear of seeing your child and family in panic trying to save animals and flee," she said. "It could've turned out so much worse but quick response from firefighters and their great efforts was fantastic and [I] can't thank them enough."
Inspector Gersback added that local volunteers were out again next day, responding to more fires.
"It was the same thing, private landholder burns that escaped, and again we had crews from right across the district from Cooyal, towards Gulgong, and all the way down to Clandulla. We didn't see any escalation to the size of Saturday's, due to the quick actions of firefighters on the ground," he said.
Another early start to season
The statutory Bush Fire Danger Period normally starts on October 1 and continues through the following March 31, however, the Cudgegong District [covering the Mid-Western Regional Council area] will continue the recent pattern of starting the season a month early.
"Our volunteers have already fought a number of grass fires in recent weeks, including a good many where bone dry vegetation and gusty winds contributed to the escape of landholder burns," Superintendent Troy Porter, of the Cudgegong District, said.
"Paddocks across our region are so dry that the blustery winds send clouds of dust billowing across the landscape. As the days get hotter and the dry weather continues, we will see an increased bush fire risk."
He also urged residents to review or create bush fire survival plans for their family's survival and remove flammable materials from their yards, clean out gutters and to make sure hoses can reach around the house.
"Residents should also check daily for the district's Fire Danger Rating, and especially to take precautions when the day's rating is Severe or above," he said.
Fire permits suspended until further notice
Normally anyone wishing to light a fire during the Bush Fire Danger Period can get a free fire permit issued by the NSW RFS, however, the Cudgegong District's senior management team has taken the unusual step of suspending virtually all issuance until further notice once the Danger Period starts - due to the impact of the ongoing dry conditions.
"We are suspending permits straight off the bat from the first of September," Superintendent Troy Porter, of NSW RFS Cudgegong District, said.
"The reasons for doing this are the ongoing dry conditions and the declining availability of water. We don't make this decision like this lightly, but in consultation with National Parks and Forestry Corporation of NSW, it was agreed that this was best for the community as we move into another long, hot season."
An exception to the suspension of permits will be the issuance of a Special Fire Permit developed by the NSW RFS to help farmers forced to destroy stock or deal with deceased livestock due to the ongoing drought. In many cases, burning deceased livestock may be the most appropriate method of prompt disposal to ensure the ongoing safety of remaining stock and alleviate public health risks.
Looking at the potential weather outlook from now to November, the Bureau of Meteorology said the local region could have a 65 per cent chance being drier than average and an 80 per cent chance of being hotter than average. And a similar pattern of warmer and drier Spring weather than usual was likely across most of the nation.