FLEETING VISIT: Fire and Rescue NSW Inspector Gary White, Grafton fire brigade captain Garry Reardon, Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner Paul Baxter and South Grafton brigade captain Paul Danvers at the Grafton Fire Station on Thursday.
FLEETING VISIT: Fire and Rescue NSW Inspector Gary White, Grafton fire brigade captain Garry Reardon, Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner Paul Baxter and South Grafton brigade captain Paul Danvers at the Grafton Fire Station on Thursday. Tim Howard

Longer season puts fire fighters under stress: commissioner

FIRE and Rescue NSW commissioner Paul Baxter has flagged the need for changes to fighting fires in rural areas during a lightning visit to Grafton Fire and Rescue.

Mr Baxter, who visited Grafton after inspecting the devastated village of Rappville on Wednesday, said the early start to the fire season was putting pressure on the RFS in a number of ways.

"It's actually not really the fire season yet," Mr Baxter said. "Yet we have had major fires since August.

"We can only wonder what it's going to be like from now on as the heat gets worse and the weather forecasts don't give us any sign of relief."

He said this affects the state's rural fire fighting personnel in a number of ways.

"We've had people fighting fires since August, which makes it a very long season for volunteers, who have jobs, families and careers to attend to," he said.

"The early season also erodes the time we put into hazard reduction burn. We're normally finishing them now.

"Instead we have fires starting in areas with heavy fuel loads because the RFS, National Parks and State Forests have not been able to get in and do the hazard reduction needed."

Mr Baxter said the response to the fires which killed two people and damaged 30 homes at Rappville had revealed how well the emergency services worked together in severe conditions.

"I was speaking with the fire controllers and it emerged just how well all the services, the Fire and Rescue, RFS, police, NPWS and ambulance had pulled together," he said.

"It was also clear how well the local community had responded to the emergency, working under the control of Fire and Rescue."

FIRE DANGER

Fire authorities have lifted the fire danger rating for the Clarence Valley to extreme. Temperatures are forecast to reach 38°C with NW to WNW winds reaching 29km/h in the afternoon.