Twelve months on from one of the most extreme fire seasons in living memory, the Rural Fire Service says building community resilience will be key to battling future, similar events.
And, says RFS district officer Stuart Robb, the 2019 fire season needs to be considered the new extreme and not the new norm.
Mr Robb says further funding announced by the NSW government to the state's emergency services and partner agencies in response to the NSW Bushfire Inquiry and last summer's devastating fires will provide a number of significant enhancements.\
This will include a focus on risk planning and mitigation, safer trucks for volunteer firefighters, and mental health support.
Other enhancements for the NSW RFS will include night time aerial firefighting and training, cultural fire management, fire behaviour analysts, improved radio communications, public information and warnings products, and trialling options for firefighter sustenance.
This season is already more favourable than it was 12 months ago with good rains over the last few months and weather patterns reverting to the average.
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The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting a La Nina which will potentially see wetter spring and summer seasons.
"That is good news because the conditions that we saw last year included severe drought, lack of rainfall and some very dry fuels on the ground," Mr Robb said.
The RFS district covers the Port Macquarie-Hastings and MidCoast council areas.
The statistics from last year bear remembering: the loss of some 400,000 hectares, at its peak from November 8-14 there were 58 fires in excess of five hectares each, 150 homes lost along with numerous structures and fences and, unfortunately, one fatality.
Mr Robb pointed out that the RFS and associated agencies had saved just on 2325 homes that were in the direct path of the fire.
"Last year was a significant event from a fire fighting perspective," he said.
"It was a superb effort from our firefighters on the ground too.
"During that peak in November, we had just on 500 firefighters, 200 fire trucks, 22 aircraft and 125 pieces of heavy plant.
"Our local crews were joined by firefighters from National Parks and Wildlife Service, Forestry Corp, Fire and Rescue NSW along with firefighters from Canada, New Zealand, ACT, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania."
It is expected that we will see future conditions that are more extreme than what we are probably used to.
"That is a function of the weather where we will see longer summers and hotter temperatures, which is being predicted by the bureau," he said.
"But while we will see more extreme conditions hopefully not to the extent that we saw across the state during November last year.
As a district and as a service, we have been building our capability, particularly in regards to enhancing our specialist capability.Stuart Robb
"As a district and as a service, we have been building our capability, particularly in regards to enhancing our specialist capability.
"We will have some aircraft coming online - additional aircraft that will enhance our current capability.
"There will be an upgrade to fleet, improved safety equipment and ensuring we build on that capability wherever possible."
While resources will be improved, Mr Robb says the community needs to also take stock of what happened in 2019.
"Even an increase in capability will never provide a fire truck to every home.
"It is therefore important for all landholders to ensure that there property is as best prepared as possible ahead of a bushfire season.
"Last year was probably the first time that our capability was utilised to its fullest extent," he said.
"I think community has realised that and it is probably a very good take out from the fires.
"While we will do everything in our powers and capabilities to extinguish fire and prevent property loss and the loss of life, it is not an unlimited resource."
Information to the community is critical and there needs to be an ability to keep that information flowing and be as up-to-date as possible.
Mr Robb says a lot of energy and effort is currently being put into the findings from the commissions into last year's bushfires, including how messaging is done, how it is communicated and the modes of that communication.
"One of the challenges is that when an area is impacted by fire, there is potential for impact on electricity supply and telecommunications.
"This presents as a challenge when information is being distributed through various channels including the Fires Near Me app.
"So it is important to have that capability as resilient as possible under those circumstances."
Mr Robb said it is critical for all households to complete a bushfire survival plan, prepare your property or home, know the current fire danger ratings and stay up to date with the current conditions.
While agencies will do everything in their power to reduce the impact on communities, there remains a limit to how much they can physically undertake in the allotted timeframes available outside the bushfire danger period.
He said everyone working together will have a bigger impact.
Mr Robb said recent discussions about increasing cultural burning techniques were part of the tools required to be successful in bushfire prevention.
"Cultural burning, improving fire trail access and hazard reduction burning are all tools that can help," he said.
"One of those in isolation will have limited impact while all of those things together will have a multiplying effect as far as impact on the landscape.
"Whether it be cultural burning, hazard reduction burns - they all add to the overall result.
"What matters is that the conditions are favourable to undertake those kinds of hazard reduction burns in a safe manner," he said.
With summers starting earlier and finishing later it means those transitional periods of spring and autumn that are typically used for hazard reduction burns are becoming shorter.
And there lies the challenge: being able to undertake fuel minimisation works in a safe manner in a suitable timeframe.
"That is the continuing challenge as the seasons progress," Mr Robb added.
At the peak of the fires the RFS headquarters at Wauchope was home to some 70 to 80 incident management personnel.
Coupled with the fire fighters on the ground, Mr Robb said it was an "absolutely awesome" effort.
"We had volunteer crews from the local 80 brigades across the district working with those interstate and overseas firefighters.
"They were all there because that's what they believe in; they were making plenty of sacrifices.
"The local firefighters were out on the fire grounds day in and day out, away from their family, away from their workplace, making that significant commitment for their community.
"That is a phenomenal outcome and great to see that there is this sort of resilience within our community.
"They were certainly looking out for each other.
"I spoke with plenty of firefighters and to them, there was nothing more devastating than being on the fire ground and knowing that someone had lost a property or home.
"Typically, many of these fire fighters would have known that property owner. They live in these local communities and they make huge sacrifices."
Since last year's bushfires, the RFS has experienced an upswing in new recruits or a return of former members.
There are also some new members who have transferred to local brigades from other areas.
Across the district there has been some 240 new members who have completed their initial training ahead of the current fire season.
"That is good to see," Mr Robb said.
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