Dry conditions increase Wellington fire risk, particularly for north of the shire, CFA warns

Bushland near Briagolong. File photo
Bushland near Briagolong. File photo

WHILE the recent sunshine and warmer temperatures have provided some welcome relief from the icy grasp of winter, it serves as a reminder that the fire danger period is not far away.

Country Fire Authority District 10 has begun its assessment of the Wellington Shire, reaching out to volunteers at local brigades who know the land to gauge what local conditions are like, and determine when fire restrictions should begin.

While south of the Princes Highway seems to have dampened somewhat, the northern regions are looking dry and drought-stricken - particularly in the bush interface.

CFA District 10 and 11 vegetation management officer and volunteer at Valencia Creek Brigade, Steph Montague, said while August rains had given paddocks a green tinge in agricultural areas, recent visits to the Briagolong foothills revealed leaf litter contained little moisture.

"We like to burn off when fuel moisture levels sit around 12 to 16 per cent, and currently out the back of Briagolong is about 12 per cent," Ms Montague said.

She added she had noticed an increase in drought-stressed trees that had lost canopy, also in the foothills area, resulting in leaves dropping and turning into surface fuel loads.

These are then exposed to the sun because of the lesser canopy coverage, and therefore dry out rapidly.

Wind is also playing its part in drying the landscape.

"We have been experiencing considerable wind events over the past months, which is further adding to these dry conditions and fine fuel loads on the ground," she said.

The south faces a separate set of challenges.

"There are also major tree deaths along the region's south and coastal areas - especially banksias, which, in the case of a bushfire, would contribute heavily to its spread," she said.

The Bureau of Meteorology reported Briagolong's yearly rainfall total was 240.4mm, while its average for this time of year is about 430.9mm.

The town would need 100mm a month, for the next four months, in order to receive its average rainfall.

Briagolong Fire Brigade reports most dams in the Briagolong and Stockdale area are empty or close to empty, and that the Freestone Creek has run dry.

While the area has had more rain to date in comparison to last year, strong winds have been a problem.

Pasture country and grassland areas in the Macalister Irrigation District have not seen much prolific regrowth, because of drought.

Newry Fire Brigade reported extremely dry conditions in the bush interface, with most dams somewhere between half full and empty.

With a water level which relies mainly on snow melt run-off, Lake Glenmaggie is below its 10-year average, sitting about two per cent less than what its capacity was this time last year at 83.2 per cent.

Many landholders around Glenmaggie have found the silver lining in their dams drying up - using the opportunity to clear out built-up silt and deepen them to have better long-term capacity when adequate rainfall does arrive.

Further south, farm dams in the Golden Beach area are empty, and the scrub is dry and crackling underfoot.

Fire restrictions for East Gippsland Shire will begin from 1am on Monday and will finish May 1 next year, unless stated otherwise.

Wellington Shire's fire restrictions are anticipated to be released sometime within the next month. For information about how to prepare properties for the fire danger period, visit www.cfa.vic.gov.au/plan-prepare/how-to-prepare-your-property.