The La Nina weather pattern has had a noticeable impact on Victoria's fire season, but authorities are warning the community not to become complacent about the risk this autumn.
According to the Australian Seasonal Outlook for autumn, developed by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, Bureau of Meteorology, and relevant state fire and land managers, above-average rainfall occurred over much of Victoria during the summer months.
In conjunction with below-average daily maximum temperatures across much of the state, the weather conditions have led to significantly reduced fire activity in both forests and grasslands.
So far this fire season - from December 1, 2020 until mid-February 2021 - firefighters have turned out to substantially less bush, grass and scrub fires across the state.
There were 1,955 fires during this period compared to 3,342 during the 2019-20 summer and 2,548 from 2018-2019.
Further, 6,800 hectares burnt across the state this summer compared to the 10-year annual average burnt each year of 252,026 hectares.
While the recently-released outlook predicts the below-normal fire potential will continue through autumn with predicted above-average rainfall, it is still likely there will also be days of elevated fire danger.
District 15 Commander Chris Bigham said that despite the end of summer there was still the potential for a fire to occur, with the landscape across the region drying out during the last month.
While the region did not endure a sustained fire throughout summer, Commander Bigham said the landscape right across the region was still dry enough to carry fire. While it is dry right across the region, it is particularly so to the north of Ballarat, such as around Clunes and Franklinford.
"Even though summer has ended, we certainly have the potential for the environment to carry fire and there is a lot of dry material available [to burn]."
Rather than becoming complacent about the risk of fire with the onset of autumn, Commander Bigham encouraged the community to stay informed about conditions and to keep fire plans up-to-date in case of a day of elevated fire danger.
"Until the fire danger period is lifted and the risk in the environment is reduced, there is always a potential for a fire to occur. Especially with higher temperatures, lower humidity and increased winds - any of those combinations can lead to an increased risk of fire impacting individuals and communities."
Until the fire danger period is lifted and the risk in the environment is reduced, there is always a potential for a fire to occur. Especially with higher temperatures, lower humidity and increased winds - any of those combinations can lead to an increased risk of fire impacting individuals and communities.Commander Chris Bigham
The contract for firefighting aircraft based in Ballarat has now come to the end of its 12-week contract period, Emergency Management Victoria confirmed.
"Over the course of their contract period, aircraft based in Ballarat assisted with 13 incidents and 5 training events," a spokesperson said.
"There are numerous aircraft still on contract that can be moved around the state in support of operational requirements or based on elevated fire danger risk."
After a devastating fire season last summer, the milder conditions have allowed Forest Fire Management Victoria and Country Fire Authority to carry out planned burning across parts of the state much earlier than in previous years, including in Ballarat.
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FFMVic has undertaken a small number of planned burns while still responding to fires throughout summer, including more than 550 campfires left unattended across the state.
These planned burns will continue as conditions become more favourable in autumn, so the community can expect to see an increase in smoke as they are undertaken.
While burning on private property is now able to proceed with a permit - which comes with strict conditions - the whole state is still in the fire danger period meaning restrictions are still in place.
Visit firepermits.vic.gov.au to apply for a permit.