A HOT and dry lead in to summer has made parts of Victoria “as dry as a chip” and bush fire responders are gearing up for a long, hard season, according to the Country Fire Authority.
Forest Fire Management Victoria has had little time to conduct planned burns before total fire bans are enforced, which in central Victoria is likely to be at the end of October.
FFMV will start burning this week if weather permits, near Rushworth and Maryborough, and others are scheduled in the coming weeks near Inglewood, Heathcote and Bendigo.
But Loddon Mallee regional manager Allyson Lardner said forests were already dry and seasonal conditions were lining up to be the worst on record.
“It is not number one, but it is well and truly up there in the top 10,” Ms Lardner said.
“We want people to be vigilant, we want people to be aware of their surroundings, what is going on, where they are going, and know the rules around things like campfires.”
Emergency personnel at a level three pre-season briefing this week were reminded that despite all the appearances, last summer was a busy time for responders.
There were a lot of fires but a smaller number of hectares lost, which means there was no big fire.
In what could be a harbinger of future challenges, a review of last season noted that operational peaks were leading into and coming out of fire danger period.
It was a reminder to reinforce fire safety messages, responders were told.
Ms Lardner said the number of call outs to campfires was “one of our biggest issues last year”.
“We had a significant number of fire last year, the impact area was less than we would ordinarily see but the number of unattended campfires was significantly higher which was quite concerning for us,” she said.
FFMV has added another five project firefighters to its seasonal workforce this season, “and that is in response to the significant conditions we are facing over the next few months.”
CFA operations manager Bill Johnstone said there was also the danger visitors who might not be familiar with bushfire danger warnings, could misread the urgency of messages, or not know where to go in a bushfire.
“Probably the big risk is people who travel through our part of the world, not realising where they are when the message is issued for them and not believing it is applicable to them,” Mr Johnstone said.
“It is about knowing where you are.
“People drive up and down our highways all the time and they see signs that they are entering one total fire ban district or another.
“Be aware, be engaged, talk to the locals and be aware of your surroundings.”