As a volunteer member and training officer of the NSW Rural Fire Service for nine years, I’ve witnessed my fair share of fire seasons. A year ago in March, our brigade helped mop-up the devastating fire at Tathra where 69 homes were lost – but thankfully no lives. We were on-call 24-hours a day for a week.
Last year’s fire behaviour was unlike anything I’ve experienced before.
The events I recall are stark evidence of a changing climate and worsening bushfire conditions. In the last week of July, NSW experienced 525 fires, more than twice the number of the previous year.
For 44 days in August, my brigade helped fight the biggest-ever fire on the south coast – the longest officially declared, out-of-control fire in our history.
The NSW RFS declared the earliest total fire bans in its history last year.
And it’s clear that the terrible fire conditions from last year are continuing into 2019.
This summer, we had a call to respond at five-minutes’ notice on a day when the fire danger was indicated to be “very high”.
Normally we’re asked to be on-call on such short notice when the fire danger reaches “severe”. The change was due to abnormally dry conditions in the southern forests. Fire seasons now start earlier and last longer. We normally have a seven-month period between fire seasons – from April to September. However, last year we had only three months.
Volunteer firefighters are now asked to put their lives on the line almost any day of the year. This is unprecedented.
I could offer more evidence, statistics and stories but the key issue is clear: climate change is supercharging bushfires.
Our communities will have to be even more prepared for devastating, out-of-season fires like those at Tathra.
In order to cope, within a decade we’ll have to double the amount of volunteer firefighters and their resources.
It’s time for governments to put aside ideology and recognise the urgency of our situation.
We elect politicians to lead, but they continue to drag their feet while more than 70 per cent of Australians want action on our climate crisis.
Time is running out. We need governments with effective policies.
Our parliamentarians need to feel the heat like we do.
There are very few climate sceptics or climate delayers on the end of a fire hose.
Andrew Jeeves is a volunteer member and training officer of the NSW Rural Fire Service.