The New South Wales Rural Fire Service is urging farmers and landholders to put in fire breaks as harvest and hot weather ramp up the fire risk in the state’s south.Key points:A header and a haystack were destroyed by fire in two incidents in the NSW Riverina this weekRural Fire Service is reminding farmers to include fire breaks in their fire protection plansIt anticipates a rise in harvester and haystack fires this season as grain production increasesRFS operational officer Bradley Stewart said huge roadside grass fuel loads that bordered farms were also concerning.”We have seen an exceptional amount of growth in the grasslands and crops, and people need to remember in the Riverina, 93 per cent of landscape here is grasslands and 97 per cent of it is privately owned, so it is mostly farmland,” he said. “The risk is there — it is not as bad as it has been in previous years — however there are substantial fuel loads.”Roadside fuel loads are high in the NSW Riverina after a lot of spring rain.(ABC Rural: Cara Jeffery)Fire breaks part of protection planMr Stewart said it was critical farmers had adequate fire breaks around infrastructure on their properties, including grain silos, shearing sheds, fences, crops and livestock. “We don’t want to see a repeat of the losses we saw in the 2019-20 season.”The RFS is concerned about the risk of hay fires.(ABC Rural: Cara Jeffery)While Mr Stewart recognised there was a growing awareness of the impacts of fire and the risk to the general community, and that a lot of farmers were implementing fire breaks, he encouraged farmers to do as much as possible.”There are properties that have sown all the way to the fence, and we understand they are trying to maximise returns from their crops, but they are potentially running the risk without a fire break,” he said. Mr Stewart said fire breaks were an effective tool in the landscape to help protect assets and property. “The effectiveness comes down to the size of the fuels either side of the break, the weather conditions on the day and the fire behaviour.”A fire break borders this wheat crop on a farm near Coolamon in the NSW Riverina.(ABC Rural: Cara Jeffery)He said fire breaks also provided a safe haven for firefighters. “So if the flame height coming off a grassfire is three metres wide, then they need to be at least 12 metres away on bare earth to be relatively safe from that fire.”Mr Stewart said the breaks were not a silver-bullet solution for fire protection. “On elevated fire risk days when weather conditions are very high, severe or extreme, fire breaks will obviously have limited capacity to stop fire; they will slow fires down, but we can expect to see fires jumping across fire breaks.”However, critical infrastructure does stand a better chance of being saved if fire breaks and asset protection zones are maintained.”Header fires likely as huge crop harvestedWhile the Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting a wet summer through to January, Mr Stewart said the RFS was preparing for more header and haystack fires. “We do see them everywhere, but this year with the abundance of crops, there’s going to be more machinery working so there is a chance of harvester fires increasing,” he said. He reminded growers to refer to the RFS Grain Harvesting Guide when weather and fire conditions were elevated. “We will issue a grain harvesting alert on days of elevated fire conditions and it’s important that farmers and machinery operators stop and check the conditions with the guide.”If the guide instructs them to cease harvesting operations and it’s too dangerous, they must do so.”He said if a fire started, it would be unlikely they would be able to stop it. Haystacks pack plenty of heatMany farmers are taking the opportunity to replenish fodder supplies that were depleted in the drought this season, however storing hay can also pose a fire risk. Mr Stewart said farmers could reduce the risk of haystack fires by storing it at different sites.”If a fire was to occur all your hay won’t be consumed, and if you are storing it in a shed, try and avoid putting machinery in there also as you could lose that too if a fire starts.”Farmers are also urged to regularly check the temperature of their hay with a steel rod. “If the steel rod is getting too hot, you need to start opening [the hay] up and pulling it out to separate it to stop a fire from starting,” Mr Stewart said.Farmers are reminded to keep their haystacks clear of machinery and stored in various locations.(ABC Rural: Cara Jeffery)
The New South Wales Rural Fire Service urges farmers and landholders to put in firebreaks as harvest and hot weather ramps up the fire risk in southern NSW.