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Eastern Australia Prepares for Another Dangerous Bushfire Season

FILE - This May 2, 2021, photo shows smoke filling the sky as Sydney is enveloped in a thick bank of hazardous bushfire smoke, forcing authorities in Australia's largest city to scale back controlled forest burning nearby.

Authorities in eastern Australia are warning that grass and crop fires are their greatest concern as the new bushfire season begins.

Grass fires can spread quickly and are hard to contain. Higher than average rainfall during the winter in parts of eastern Australia has left many communities vulnerable.

“We will see a significant risk to the communities across New South Wales of grass fire,” said David Elliott, the New South Wales minister for police and emergency services. “That is the concern. The mapping has suggested that from the Queensland border down to the Victorian border, particularly amongst the central western part of the state, the risk for grass fire is immense. Communities across the state are reminded that they need to prepare themselves for fire.”

The New South Wales government is spending $350 million on a fleet of new fire engines and protective equipment for front-line volunteers. There is also investment in fire behavior analysis and more hazard reduction, or the controlled burn off of vegetation. There is also funding to implement Australia’s new National Fire Danger Rating system.

New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Rob Rogers said his organization is ready for the threats that lie ahead.

“We have never been better resourced; we’ve never been more prepared than we are this year,” he said. “Whilst there will be fires, we’ll deal with them like we have other fires, but please don’t be complacent. Make sure you have cleaned your property, make sure you have a bushfire survival plan. Make sure you know what you and your family are going to do if fire threatens.”

The firefighting effort in Australia has been boosted by the return of a Boeing 737 Large Air Tanker that has been on deployment for two months in North America, mostly Canada. It can drop 15,000 liters of water in under three seconds.

Southeastern Australia is one of the world’s most fire-prone regions. Fire seasons vary across the country, and blazes occur year-round.

The New South Wales official fire season runs from October through to March.

The “Black Summer” fires started in Australia’s hottest and driest year on record in 2019. Twenty-four million hectares of land were burned, 3,000 homes were destroyed and 33 people were killed. More would die later from the effects of toxic clouds of smoke that smothered many major cities.