OPINION: Major Fire Hazard Opinion by News Of The Area - Modern Media - May 30, 2021 DEAR News Of The Area, THE Coffs Coast has just had one of its wettest and mildest wet seasons for years. Understory growth in the forests and on private property between Bellingen and Woolgoolga has been phenomenal. And sooner or later it’s going to dry off and become a major fire hazard. If we get a hot dry spring and some storm activity we may be looking at a fire season along the coast to rival the 2020 one. I have farmed and grown bananas at Boambee for 43 years and was an active member of the Boambee Rural Fire Brigade for 34 of those years. RFS brigades between Crossmaglen, Red Hill and Woolgoolga used to conduct burn offs along the western hills every few years to protect our banana assets as well as the homes and infrastructure of families who worked in town. Depending on weather conditions at the time we would burn off from late July until early September. We used a simple philosophy – light the eastern side of the hills along the forestry trails at the ridge line and let it slowly burn down. Once it had burned down far enough we lit the burn off at the bottom and let it burn up the hill. Most of the eastern escarpment has south facing gullies that were too wet to burn and they provided a safe place for ground dwelling wildlife. Because it was a cool burn Koalas were safe in their trees and later thrived due to the ability to move around freely and see predators after we had burned the lantana and other noxious weeds. Some 15 years ago the hierarchy of the RFS got spooked about the possibility of being sued if burn offs got away and they tightly wrapped all the brigades up in red tape and effectively eliminated burn offs. So we now have over 15 years of fuel load waiting to go up in the right conditions. That problem has been compounded by the fact that the Forestry Corporation and Coffs Harbour City Council do little to keep the access trails open, particularly those on the southern and western sides of the city. So access to conduct hazard reduction is near impossible as is conducting a burn back to stop a wildfire. Banana growers were the backbone of the RFS in this area for many years as winter was a slack period and we had the time to devote to burn offs. Now most active brigade members work in town or have a business to run and are not available for burn offs. So to protect places like Crossmaglen, Boambee, Red Hill, Moonee, and Woolgoolga from wildfire the RFS will have to employ paid staff to carry out burn offs sooner rather than later or we could be facing a firestorm one day. Of course I am sure that all those rural residents west of the highway are bushfire savvy and fully prepared, having learned from the 2019 -2020 fires. Yeah right! Regards, Ted KNOBLOCK, Boambee.