Challenging fire season ahead for NT

The sign for Townend Road on the Stuart Highway about 60km south of Darwin. This is the site of the new Bushfires NT Centre.
The sign for Townend Road on the Stuart Highway about 60km south of Darwin. This is the site of the new Bushfires NT Centre. Mark Wilton

AS THE Top End moves into what is expected to be another "challenging” fire season, Bushfires NT has warned landowners to "do the right thing” or face prosecution.

A new Bushfires NT "compliance unit” has been charged with ensuring that rural landowners have cut appropriate fire breaks and have done as much as possible to keep fuel loads down.

Bushfires NT Executive Director Collene Bremner told Rural Weekly that it is often the poor actions of one person that puts many at risk.

"The compliance enforcement unit is preparing to start doing fire break inspections and they will be pushing very hard to get people to comply, but if they don't we will be issuing infringement notices,” Ms Bremner said.

"When we have landholders doing the right thing being put at risk by others that aren't, then we have a responsibility to ensure compliance, and that is why the enforcement unit was established.

"I urge all landholders to ensure they put the required fire breaks in and to make sure they get a permit before they doing any burning off.”

Ms Bremner said that a number of Bushfires NT staff had been given investigations training ahead of the coming season.

Ms Bremner said the training is part of an ongoing "modernisation” of Bushfires NT and as a result she said the Government's recent announcement that it will invest $4.5million in 2018-19 for the construction of a new regional Bushfires NT Head Quarters was welcomed.

"The population has certainly changed around the Darwin rural area, it has increased, and the Gamba Grass has increased and so have the expectations on our organisation,” she said.

"We had some criticisms last year around public warnings and being able to put information on the internet about the status of the fires ... when you are dealing with volunteers who use UHF radios, it doesn't automatically go on the internet,” Ms Bremner said.

Therefore, Ms Bremner said that over the past 12 months Bushfires NT has been developing an internet system that enables information about permits and wildfires to be automatically posted online.

"It will mean that people will know the status of a fire, whether it is uncontrolled, or it has warnings attached to it ... that type of thing.”

As well as the planned new Bushfires NT headquarters, extra funding from the Government will also boost the organisation's capabilities Ms Bremner said.

An additional $2million a year in operational funding - on top of Bushfire NT's existing budget of $6million - will go towards upgrading the firefighting fleet, improved support for volunteers, better protective clothing and equipment, better training, improved communications and community engagement and operations.

"We have limited funding for the volunteer brigades and once they have done their basic fire-fighting training we issue them with their protective clothing such as boots, goggles and the like and we send them off, on their way,” Ms Bremner said. "But that's it, after that it's up to the brigades to provide the firefighting equipment with the limited funds that they have.

"But we certainly consider the volunteers an extension of our workforce and so what this extra money will allow us to do is re-issue protective equipment when it is required, and so we should because it is a safety issue,” Ms Bremner said.

The new centre to be built on the corner of the Stuart Highway and Townend Road about 60km south of Darwin will replace the Batchelor and Winnellie offices and construction is expected to start in 2019.

The location is adjacent to the World War II Hughes airstrip which currently serves as a forward base for fixed wing firefighting aircraft when responding to significant fires in the rural area.

Topics:  2018 season preview bushfire nt new centre