Australia prepares for summer bushfire threat

STORY: Fighting fire, with fire.

These proactive burn offs by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service are hoping to destroy any fuel that a bushfire could consume.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology declared an El Nino event for the country on Tuesday (September 19) - a hot dry summer in the forecast, and with it, higher risks of widespread bushfires.

Here's firefighter Elisabeth Gos.

‘’One of the reasons why we're doing strategic hazard reductions is to reduce the fuel loading and to mitigate the impact and severity of fires if and when they do come into a particular area."

Fresh in the minds of the country is the Black Summer of four years ago.

Relentless bushfires ripped through 24 million hectares (59.3 million acres) , destroyed 3000 homes, killed 33 people and an estimated three billion native animals.

But this year’s threat comes after three wet summers since, brought on by La Nina, which has put a stop to preparations to cut back new growth, as RFS Commissioner Rob Rogers told Reuters.

"We've just had rain after rain after rain event, so we're quite behind. So for the last year (June 2022 - June 2023), for example, we only did 24% of the preparation work we wanted to do for hazard reduction, so considerably behind."

Climate experts believe as new vegetation growth spurred by the heavy rain dries out, it could create perfect conditions for bushfires to take hold.

A sizzling start to Spring this month has already brought heat records to many parts of Sydney. Some regional schools have closed due to the bushfire risk, a month out from the official season begins.

But authorities believe the chance of a repeat Black Summer is low.

"We're not on the back of a four year drought, which is where we were then. But it's a different risk and it's certainly the most significant risk we've faced since 19 - 20 and we're taking it very seriously.’’

It’s a race against time to train volunteers, too. The service relies on over 75,000.

But many did not return after the summer of 2019 – 2020.

"I don't think that anyone came out of that season (2019 - 2020 bushfires) the same as when they went in and I think that's important to consider, that firefighters, we deal with a lot, but at the same time, we need to stand together and look after each other.’’