"The Aussie-ism of 'she'll be right, mate' isn't good enough any more when doing something about preparing your family or home." Photo: Damian White
Record-breaking temperatures are making it too dangerous to continue the hazard reduction burn program in large areas of the state, the NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner says.
Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said a lack of rain and high temperatures had led to the suspension of controlled fires, possibly permanently if the hot weather continued. Only the Murray region and parts of the Riverina are relatively green and have escaped the postponement.
Conditions are so severe that fire fighters on the northern beaches reported bushland burnt up to a month ago had reignited on Sunday.
''Sadly, history has shown firefighters have been killed during hazard reduction operations,'' Mr Fitzsimmons said. ''We don't shy away from it, but hazard reduction burns must be done safely.''
Fire authorities will again be on alert across NSW on Thursday with high temperatures and strong winds creating severe fire danger. Sydney is expecting 34 degrees with humidity down to 10 per cent and wind gusts reaching 75 km/h.
Mr Fitzsimmons said the psyche of the community towards bad fire days had to change. Instead of looking for someone to blame, the community had to accept fires occurred, and success against them should be judged on lives saved and property protected.
''You cannot deny how emotionally draining bushfires are,'' he said. ''They are so confronting, so frightening, so invasive … [with] stresses at all levels. It's an emotion-charged and opinionated environment.
''But the Aussie-ism of 'she'll be right, mate' isn't good enough any more when doing something about preparing your family or home.''
Port Stephens mayor Bruce MacKenzie gained national prominence for claims that huge fuel loads were being ignored by the government and its agencies despite warnings from landholders and fire experts.
Sunday's fire destroyed four houses and at least 17 other structures around Port Stephens. Cr MacKenzie said local fire crews and landholders had wanted hazard reduction burns through the area to lessen the large fuel loads.
Mr Fitzsimmons said the criticisms comments were simplistic and unfounded. In 2002, legislative changes were made giving the commissioner the authority to order all owners and managers of private, commercial and government land to conduct essential hazard reductions. Agencies such as National Parks, State Forests and local councils reduce hazards according to the strategies in bushfire risk management plans put together by local committees.
Mr Fitzsimmons said the Port Stephens bushfire committee, which includes council representatives and employees and government landholders, had achieved 90 per cent of its ''ambitious'' hazard reduction program, higher than the state average. No members of this committee had made complaints about the failure of state landholders to reduce fire hazards.
''There is no evidence, despite the mayor's comments, to back up the claims that they haven't been able to get the work done that they wanted done,'' he said.