THE early season fire disaster in New South Wales, which has already claimed dozens of homes and unfortunately some lives, could be repeated in Victoria if we're not prepared, a leading CFA officer has warned.
Wayne Rigg, who helped lead the trial of night fire bombing in Ballarat, has twice travelled in the past month to oversee air bombing of fires that have decimated much of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland.
"Until you actually see how dry it is here, it is hard to comprehend just how the drought is affecting the communities up here in New South Wales," Commander Rigg said.
"This was the second time I've been up in a month, I've been working at Glen Innes on fires around there and Tenterfield, Armidale and Casino, almost to the Queensland border.
"It's very early for New South Wales to be seeing such a high level of activity and it's very much as part of the prolonged drought.
"It's quite surreal, you leave Ballarat at 6.30am to go to Sydney, then you fly onto Armidale and to Glen Innes by 3.30pm. You arrive and it's just like a moonscape, there's no feed, it's dry as a chips, very little or no water in the dams, you see tractors being sold by farmers on the side of the road. These are farmers who should be getting ready for a harvest.
"Unless you fly there and see the ground and travel the country, you don't understand how much of a effect it has had."
Commander Rigg said the first week there he helped coordinate 28 aircraft and he was involved in similar numbers again.
"To put things in perspective you've got designated rainforest areas that are burning," he said. "One of the fires alone had a 1200km fire edge. That's further than from here to Sydney. There are new fires starting all the time because of lightning strikes.
"It's incredibly challenging for the communities and all the agencies. It's inspiring to be working with a common goal of protecting the community."
He said the New South Wales fires should not be taken for granted in much of Victoria despite predictions of a "normal fire season" around Ballarat.
"It's spring in Ballarat and there's green grass around, but it's very easy to become complacent and not address those issues," Commander Rigg said.
"Regardless of whether it's a normal season, or a higher than normal season, people need to be prepared and need to start planning and preparing now, clean up, pick up the leaves, clean up the gutters, things can turn very very quickly.
"The more time you take to prepare the better off you're going to be to assist us."
Go to cfa.vic.gov.au/plan-prepare for tips.
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