Rest is over: Rural fireys ready NSW for the next season
Just 10 weeks after the horror bushfires fireys were back on the hose today tasked with a mountainous 700-hectare hazard reduction burn north of Sydney.
The horror season which started in September and finished in February resulted in the death of 25 people killed, 5.5 million hectares of land burnt and almost 2,500 homes destroyed.
At its height, there were more than 4,000 RFS volunteers in the field.
After a two-month-long break, Milsons Passage Brigade Fire Captain David Williams, 51, was supervising volunteers conducting a 700-hectare hazard reduction burn in Canoelands, an hour north of Sydney.
"Without a doubt, the last season was the hardest I had ever worked in my life. Basically, for three months I just stopped working and was out with the crew. For about two months our truck was out every single day," he said.
"The size and scope of the fire were like nothing I had seen before. It was like a war zone but we still had volunteers turning up every day - it did not matter if they had worked for 14 or 16 hours, they were back ready the next day."
Conservative estimates show the RFS saved almost 15,000 homes from the fires, which ranged from Tenterfield in the north of NSW and Wyndham in the south.
The devastation of last season put largely down to a combination of increased fuel loads and unseasonably hotter and drier conditions.
NSW RFS Inspector Ben Shepherd told The Daily Telegraph firefighters are facing an uphill battle to be prepared for this year's bushfire season, which is forecast to start in August.
"It is important to note that we are behind where we would like to be, traditionally in autumn, we try to get 60 per cent of our burning program done. The difficulty is that the burning windows are so small - in some areas, there could be only 30 days a year which would be suitable," he said.
"While we are grateful for the rain at the end of the fire season it did slow down plans for the hazard reduction burns.
"At the moment we are taking on some large burns, particularly around Sydney. These are ranging from 300 to 400 to 700 hectares."
Fresh in the mind of RFS forecasters is the impact smoke will have on the public, after thick clouds covered NSW for the majority of summer.
"We try to plan the burns so the smoke does not linger over residential areas but that is just another consideration along with fuel loads and moisture levels," Insp Shepherd said.
At its worst, on November 11, Sydney's air quality index was 14 times worse than the "hazardous" rating and just weeks later, from November 30 to December 12, there were 13 days straight days of hazardous air quality conditions.
Originally published as Rest is over: Rural fireys ready NSW for the next season