More than 60 bush and grass fires burned across NSW on Saturday and Sunday in what police have called the first major blazes of the season.
NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) dispatched a Bell 214B-1 Big Lifter to tackle a fire in Northmean, in Sydney’s west, that damaged a property before being brought under control.
‘Watch and act’ alerts were also issued for fires at Pitt Town Road in Kenthurst and Faulconbridge in the Blue Mountains as winds picked up on Sunday afternoon.
NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott said, “Here we go again. We have of course seen the first weekend of really significant bushfire activity.
“We cannot fall into a false sense of security. The community out there, unfortunately, thinks after the last season we are not at risk of bushfire. The reality is 90 per cent of the state is still untouched by bushfire.”
Another difficult day for firies working in extreme heat – but the change is heading up the coast! At 5pm, 62 bush and grass fires, with the Faulconbridge fire at Watch and Act. The change has moved through the Illawarra with temps dropping about 10 degrees. #nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/UNeDT7gwWw
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) November 29, 2020
The blazes were likely sparked by the hottest November night since records began 160 years ago. During the day at Sydney’s Olympic Park, temperatures reached 41.6 degrees.
On Sunday afternoon, however, temperatures suddenly dropped to bring some respite. However, come Monday morning, a total fire remained in place for the North Western & Northern Slopes with a ‘Very High’ fire danger rating, but the Faulconbridge outbreak has been downgraded to ‘Advice’ with the threat to homes having eased.
NSW RFS Commissioner Rob Rogers said the state was prepared for a “very different” bushfire season this year.
“What we haven’t had for the last few years is grass because we have been in a drought so there’s been no grass to obviously grow or burn,” said Rogers. “That’s changed significantly. These grass fires are quite dangerous.”
BOM’s Helen Kirkup said NSW had seen the hottest November evening for a while.
A Total Fire Ban is now in place for the North Western & Northern Slopes areas today, with Very High fire danger. Although conditions are more favourable elsewhere, we are likely to see elevated fire danger across many parts of NSW return tomorrow.https://t.co/rUZNyRshb9 #NSWRFS
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) November 29, 2020
“Sydney Observatory Hill only went down to 25.3 degrees around 1:30am and that was the coolest it made it to all night and that’s because of a fairly strong westerly wind that’s been dragging warm, hot air across the region for parts of yesterday, right overnight and that will continue today,” said Kirkup.
“Another place, Cobar, only went down to 28.9, which is a November record for them and that’s a station that has 59 years of data, so quite a long record there.”
The outbreak came after NSW’s Rural Fire Service claimed it had the largest aerial fleet of any fire agency in Australia
Minister Elliott said the state had invested $26.3 million to provide the LAT ‘Marie Bashir’ and Citation ‘Birddog’ aircraft.
“We’ve also unveiled two new Bell 412 Helicopters, an investment of $6.3 million that will further enhance capability across the state,” he said.
“No matter what Mother Nature throws at us; we have the ability to respond. If we experience a wet summer, these aircraft can assist rescuing people in floodwaters, or they can transport our crews to fast moving grass fires this bush fire season.
“NSW RFS and Australian Defence Force aircraft successfully rescued 51 people from imminent danger last bushfire season. These new aircraft will double this capability, and along with the two BK117 helicopters, enhance our rapid aerial and remote area firefighting operations.”
Rogers added the state had access to 100 “call-when-needed and contracted aircraft”.
The fleet is based at a number of locations including RAAF Base Richmond and Bankstown Airport and follows the NSW RFS confirming earlier this month it would improve its aerial firefighting fleet following a 28 per cent increase in its funding from the state budget.
The organisation will now have access to $672.5 million with the potential for further supplementary funding depending on the strength of this year’s bushfire season.
The increase comes after the bushfire royal commission’s final report recommended Australia creates a new national aerial firefighting fleet funded by state and federal governments.
The long-awaited investigation said it had heard evidence that existing aircraft weren’t shared between states and territories last year because of the intensity and length of the ‘black summer’ bushfire season.