New South Wales RFS officers tour the State Operations Centre. Photo: NSW Rural Fire Service
The number of council areas bringing forward the start of their bushfire season is set to double, amid warnings from the state's most senior bush firefighter of above-average fire risks in the coming months.
Despite the "welcome relief" of recent rainfall, NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons warned residents in fire-prone areas that recent rains had not reduced risks.
"We're expecting what's described as an 'above normal' sort of season ... not withstanding this welcome relief we've received [from rain] in the last week … we've had a particularly dry spell in recent months," he said.
"People shouldn't be lulled into a false sense of security.": Shane Fitzsimmons. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Mr Fitzsimmons said "up to another 20" councils will bring forward their bushfire season to September 1, adding to another 22 local government areas that had already started their bushfire season on August 1. Bushfire season traditionally starts on October 1.
"[The early starts] were indicative of just how dry the vegetation and the landscape was and with the onset of some strong winds out of the west, we saw fires starting easily and spreading very quickly, and that was without warm conditions," Mr Fitzsimmons said.
The Bureau of Meteorology has referred to the possiblity of a "green drought" - where a limited amount of rainfall causes grass to grow, but with no follow up moisture to cultivate it.
Mr Fitzsimmons said the bushfire season tends to start in the north of the state before spreading further south as temperatures rise closer to the end of the year, and that by December "a fair chunk" of the state will be vulnerable to the fires.
The warmer months ahead come with the strong possiblity of El Nino being the featured weather pattern for the bushfire season. Mr Fitzsimmons warned: "All the outlooks ahead for the next three months are for a continuance of above average temperatures and below average rainfall."
The commissioner has encouraged residents in high-risk areas to be prepared, and has encouraged people to download the RFS Bushfire Survival Plan.
"Now it's really important for people in fire-prone areas to actually have a plan, have a conversation with the family, prepare the home and know what they're going to do when threatened by fire. Preparation is the key."