BACKYARD BLAZE: A backyard grass fire was ignited at a residence on Creek St just outside of Chinchilla last week after an elderly resident started the blaze from welding outside.
BACKYARD BLAZE: A backyard grass fire was ignited at a residence on Creek St just outside of Chinchilla last week after an elderly resident started the blaze from welding outside. Kate McCormack

Bush fires threaten to dry up country's limited water supply

EXTREME drought conditions in many parts of the country are forcing rural fire services to find ways to fight blazes without water.

Fire services from both New South Wales and Queensland raised the issue in the Australian Seasonal Bushfire Outlook in late August, which showed a massive stretch of the east coast stretching from Gippsland to Townsville was at elevated fire risk this season.

Queensland's bushfire season arrived with a vengeance last week, with 70 blazes burning at one time, 20 structures lost and catastrophic conditions declared in some parts of the state. More than 65 per cent of the state is in drought.

In New South Wales that figure is a staggering 95 per cent.

A lack of rainfall means there is little growth to burn in some regions, but in other areas with a significant fuel load there is a low level of water available for fire suppression.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Superintendent James Haig said the best way to control fires was "not have them start".

"When things are that dry it's really important people are aware that they can start a fire even by mowing or slashing grass. A rock under a mower can easily spark a fire," he said.

If a blaze does start, Supt Haig encouraged people to douse it themselves if they had the capacity to do so, and to call Triple 0 quickly if they did not.

"That early stage is really important. We'll be happy to hear from you even if we've already heard about it," he said.

Severe drought in many areas meant previously accessible water sources such as dams on farms were no longer necessarily an option for fire crews, he said.

One solution in such a situation is to deploy "portable reservoirs": bulk tankers, capable of holding thousands of litres, which are used to refill trucks on the front line and moved around as needed.

Dry firefighting techniques are also increasingly being used by crews when battling blazes, and not just in Australia: fire services in California have faced similar issues through many years of drought there.

A spokesman for the NSW RFS told News Corp that such techniques "are not new for our fire fighters, but they haven't previously been required in such proportions as we're seeing now in New South Wales."

In addition to back burning - which has previously made some big fire events worse - one strategy being used is what the services refer to as "heavy plant": bringing in big machinery like bulldozers and graders to construct containment lines.

Chinchilla News reported on a local grass fire ignited by welding sparks last week, station captain Brian Colley said his crew managed to get the blaze under control within half an hour of arriving to the scene.

The veteran captain said he hoped this would serve a warning to residents on regional properties heading into bush fire season.


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