The Worst Bushfire Season In NSW History Has Finally Ended
After more than 11,400 fires which burnt through more than 5.5 million hectares of land, the NSW bushfire season has finally finished.
NSW Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said Tuesday marked the end of the most devastating bush fire season in the state's history.
More than six per cent of the state's land was burned in the fires, and 2,448 homes were lost.
“This season there were six days where areas across NSW recorded catastrophic fire weather conditions," Fitzsimmons said.
“At the height of activity, there was on average around 2,500 firefighters in the field each shift with up to 4,000 on days of increased fire danger and impact."
Tragically, 25 lives were lost across the state, including those of three NSW RFS volunteers and three US aerial firefighters.
Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O'Dwyer from the Horsley Park Brigade in Sydney's west were killed while on duty at the Green Wattle Creek blaze on December 19 when their truck was struck by a tree, causing it to leave the road and overturn.
Less than two weeks later, another volunteer firefighter, Samuel McPaul from the Morven Brigade in the state's south, was killed when extreme winds from the Green Valley blaze rolled his fire truck.
In January, three American firefighters who had travelled to Australia to help with the fire effort, were killed when their air tanker crashed in the state's south east.
Captain Ian McBeth, first officer Paul Hudson and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr were given military honours for their service.
"Our thoughts will forever be with the families and loved ones of all those who lost their lives," Fitzsimmons said on Tuesday.
“Their loss has been felt deeply and we honour the sacrifice they made to selflessly protect communities across NSW."
Fitzsimmons thanked both members and the community for their response to the crisis over many months.
"Time and time again, we’ve heard from affected areas how the incredible work of firefighters on the ground, backed up by the crews in the air, have helped save people and property,” he said.
"While we’ve seen unprecedented fire activity, we’ve also seen an unprecedented response from the community."
“We must also be mindful of all those still enduring the very raw and difficult recovery process as a result of the fires and that efforts are sustained through this very personal challenge."
NSW Police and Emergency Services Minister David Elliot told 10 daily the state was going from one disaster to another.
"Each is testing our resilience," Elliott said in a statement.
"NSW owes a debt of gratitude to not just every firefighter who has held a hose - but to every single first responder who has been fighting to keep the community safe since we first saw bushfires back in June of last year, and may well continue to fight the spread of COVID-19 for months to come.”
While the bushfire season has ended, the RFS is now also dealing with the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak.
In a statement to 10 daily, the Rural Fire Service said it is continuing with its essential activities and maintaining front line service delivery, including responding to fires and other emergency situations.
A spokesperson for the RFS said it had also identified that training courses which are critical to maintaining ongoing operational capability can continue if there is appropriate sanitation and social-distancing measures in place.
“The NSW RFS is working to provide sensible and practical advice to members, so that activities which are essential can continue to be held when appropriate steps are taken to safeguard the health and safety of its members," the spokesperson said.
On Tuesday, Fitzsimmons said while the state's focus is now on the coronavirus response effort it was still important for people to be prepared for future fire emergencies.
"The next bush fire season will begin in only a matter of months," he said.
"So keep your property prepared and have your bush fire survival plan up to date and discussed with those in your family and household.”