This summer is tipped to be one of the most dangerous in Australian history for bushfires.
The confluence of El Nino, the Indian Dipole, and a near perfect mix of wet and dry conditions over the last few years have created a powder keg, ready to ignite.
In challenging Australian summers, the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) can be stretched to it's limit, leaving people with the challenge of protecting their own homes and properties.
In the regions, this can be particularly challenging. West of the Great dividing range, a sparse population leaves a small number of volunteers with the responsibility for covering a large area.
Riverina-based RFS Operational officer Bradley Stewart said that even when everything goes according to plan, sometimes they can arrive too late.
"An ignition at the wrong place at the wrong time on the wrong day can change everything," he said.
"It's not unusual for RFS brigades to cover huge areas where it might take them 15 or 20 minutes drive to get from the station to the incident.
"From the time the brigade members are notified, it might take them 15 or 20 minutes to get to the station - they're not sitting there waiting for the fire."
Preparing for the worst
The majority of the work of protecting a home or farm comes down to good preparation.
Keeping a wide area around sheds and homes clear of leaf litter and other flammable materials is a simple but affective way of slowing a possible fire. This means trees, leaf litter, branches, and flammable synthetic materials.
Keeping gutters clean is important in protecting a home from embers that could burn it to the ground is there is something to ignite on the roof.
Sheds and machinery need to be kept clean to reduce the odds of their igniting.
The heightened risk of grass fire this year means farmers should be particularly careful about using tools that can produce a spark or flame. Mr Stewart said RFS receive calls every year about fires that have spread out of control due to a something as small as an angle grinder.
"Everyone needs to do what they can to make sure they've got the best possible opportunity to fight it, or reduce the losses they might otherwise sustain," he said.
"We've seen a drop in the number of fire breaks farmers are putting on their properties in the last few years, and we can't advocate for them strongly enough.
"Fire breaks offer a level of protection. They may not always stop a fire, but they may slow it, giving firefighters and opportunity to contain fires that would otherwise move freely."
Stay in contact with the RFS
Farmers should work with the RFS to reduce fuel over a wider area to protect their livestock. When fire danger is elevated in the summer, livestock should be moved to areas of the property that has the least flammable material nearby.
Mr Stewart said it's important farmers keep the RFS informed about what they're doing on their properties to prevent resources from being wasted on false alarms from hazard reduction burns, or removing crop stubble.
He said during bushfire season, burning without a permit is a serious crime that can create serious danger
"Those permits are to ensure fire is being used safely in the environment, so we know who's burning, where they're burning, and give us an opportunity to stipulate what protections need to be in place," he said.
"For people burning off that don't require a permit, they should contact the local fire control centre and all of their neighbours.
"Every year across NSW we receive what we call 'good intent calls', by a neighbour or passing motorist that wasn't aware of burning off ... If we check our records and determine we're not aware of a fire in that location, we're obliged to dispatch our volunteers in trucks to go and investigate."
Defending your home
If fire begins to approach your home, you should take advantage of your recently cleaned gutters.
Plug the drainpipes, and flood the gutters to create a barrier between the approaching fire, and potentially easy to ignite materials in the roof.
This will not protect any building from an approaching wall of fire, but it reduces danger from embers, or spot fires.
People standing on roofs spraying the surrounding area with a garden hose became a common image in news reports during the Black summer Bushfires.
While the garden hose has its place in protecting the homes from fire, Mr Stewart said this is not the way to do it.
"I worked at Canberra Hospital during the bushfires in 2003, and we saw a huge number of people admitted with broken arms and legs who were on the roofs of their homes trying to wet them down when the fire came through, and they fell off the roof," he said.
"You don't want to be on a slippery surface spraying water around when a fire is impacting your property. You're exposed to the fire and full affect of it, and you're likely to fall off.
"Make sure your hose can reach the full length both ways around your house, so that should you be threatened, you've got an easy way to get water to the point at which the fire might be encroaching on the property."
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