Former NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has described the 2019-20 bushfire season as extraordinary and unprecedented in terms of weather, fire behaviour and the widespread damage, destruction and tragedy.
“We saw an area burnt across NSW like we haven’t seen before particularly across the forested areas,” Fitzsimmons told the natural disasters royal commission on July 15.
“We saw a protracted nature of the fire season without any meaningful interruption from weather.”
Fitzsimmons, who now heads the state’s lead disaster management agency Resilience NSW, said traditionally there would be some reprieve in the weather, but that did not happen last season.
He noted the outlook for the 2019-20 season had been almost identical to that for 2018-19 in terms of where above-normal fire activity was expected, but the situation was compounded by the drought drying the landscape and vegetation.
“Obviously the indications were for above normal, but no one had the capacity to forecast and predict the extent and the scale to which weather and fire behaviour played out with a stretching of fire literally from the Queensland border all the way through to the Victorian border along the Great Dividing Range.”
The bushfires in NSW led to 26 deaths and affected 50 local government areas, burnt 5.5 million hectares, destroyed 2476 houses, 284 facilities and 5559 outbuildings.
There were close to 200,000 firefighting shifts used to battle 11,000 to 12,000 fires that started in July, and 6500 interstate and international personnel came to the state’s aid.
Megan Neil in Melbourne