Fire season is longer

EXCLUSIVE Daniel MercerThe West Australian

Southern WA's bushfire season is up to six weeks longer than 20 years ago, according to a leading firefighter who has warned that preparations are increasingly being hampered by climatic and urban obstacles.

Ahead of 35C temperatures forecast for Perth today, the Department of Parks and Wildlife's Roger Armstrong said firefighters faced a double whammy as bushfires became more extreme but prescribed burning became harder.

The ominous comments from Mr Armstrong, the department's principal fire planner, come after his agency burnt just 21,000ha out of a controlled burning target of 200,000ha across the South West last year.

Mr Armstrong said though an overhaul of the department's prescribed burning policies had contributed to the most recent shortfall, in general it was becoming more difficult to do burns.

He said this was because weather conditions most suitable for burning - which usually happens in spring and autumn - were becoming less frequent so fewer burns could be carried out.

He said that added to this was a growing intolerance in urban communities such as Perth of smoke associated with prescribed burns - a trend Mr Armstrong said was exacerbated by the tree-change culture.

Amid a dramatic decline in South West rainfall and rising temperatures, the upshot was likely to be more intense bushfires that would cause more damage to lives and property, he said.

"Certainly our observations are that our bushfire season tends to be about six weeks longer now compared to what it was 20-odd years ago," Mr Armstrong said.

"Our prescribed fire opportunities have been constrained, which means we don't get to treat as much of the landscape as we would like to. So the potential for bushfire, the area that's available in high-fuel condition for bushfire, is greater.

"It's a circuitous route and it's here to stay.

"It is challenging, particularly where people with the sea-change, tree-change thing."

Environment Minister Albert Jacob said the Government had an obligation to do "everything it possibly can" to mitigate bushfire risk but landholders also had a responsibility to look after fuel on their properties.

"We can't do this alone," he said. "It must be a shared responsibility.

"All landowners should now be taking action, such as clearing around their property, installing firebreaks and cleaning out gutters."

Shadow emergency services minister Margaret Quirk said the department could not control the weather but it should be devoting more resources to the prescribed burning opportunities it got.

Weather Bureau regional manager Neil Bennett said conditions typically associated with spring and autumn were becoming rarer as winter and summer increasingly prevailed in the South West.

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