DESPITE continuing rainfall across the south-west, emergency services are already on alert, with predictions of a high-risk summer fire season ahead.
Crews from various agencies who united in Portland to fine-tune preparations were told they faced an alert that could be as challenging as last fire season, which extended from December to May, particularly in the Otways.
“Last summer’s fire season was exceptional and indications are we are heading into another busy danger season,” CFA regional director Bob Barry told The Standard after addressing more than 75 service representatives at briefings in Portland on Tuesday.
“I was also with Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley in Camperdown on Monday and he has indicated we need to focus on high-risk areas such as the Otways, where there’s fuel and soil dryness.
“While there’s been above-average rainfall for spring, overall this year has been below average across the region, which will give us an above-average fire season.
“There will be a window of opportunity in the next couple of months for preparation work by property owners, but that window can close very quickly.”
Mr Barry said fire restriction rules would be in place before the Christmas holiday tourism influx.
The Portland briefings organised by the CFA and Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) also included Parks Victoria, State Emergency Service, local government, Department of Human Services and South Australian fire services representatives.
“We worked through various preparations for the coming season, including an emergency scenario,” Mr Barry said. “Fatigue will again be an issue for our people who have to man-up on every day of high fire risk and be on high alert.
“There will be a lot of training exercises by rural brigades between now and summer.
“Farmers and other property owners should start soon to check machinery and fire risks.”
Police and Emergency Services Minister Kim Wells said 17 multi-agency regional exercises and briefings had been planned for the next few months as part of a government commitment to help emergency services to work better together.
“Last season MFB, CFA and DEPI firefighters fought more than 4400 bush and grass fires, 24 of which were significant,” he said.