SUPPLIED | QFES
THE Rural Fire Service Queensland is on a mission to strengthen its volunteer ranks as the state heads into what could be a severe bushfire season.
A large-scale bushfire that scorched more than 500 hectares at Tara over the weekend has highlighted the dangers still present in the Western Downs region, despite the fact that the official start to the season is still more than a month away.
Fuels that have built up during consecutive wet seasons has now dried out from frosts and is ready to burn, given the right conditions.
Above average temperatures combined with strong westerly winds that came on Sunday helped fan the flames, and it was lucky the RFS was able to call on multiple crews on the ground to help bring the fires under control relatively quickly.
There are currently more than 26,000 RFS volunteers across the state, but in rural towns throughout western Queensland there is an ongoing need to get more passionate locals putting the hand up to defend their close-knit communities.
Whether they are members of a full brigade or primary producer brigades who carry a “slip on” firefighting unit on the back of their ute, RFS members form an essential part of the defence for regional Queenslanders.
Jondaryan Rural Fire Brigade First Officer and local cattle and grain farmer Damien Cooke said many hands made light work when protecting country communities.
Despite his brigade boasting about 20 members, Cooke said there were always challenges involved in getting people away from their everyday work and family commitments.
“It’s the same across the board and I think it has got a bit harder over the years,” he said.
“For me, the reason you get involved in your Rural Fire Brigade is to give something back to your community while getting out and about and meeting new people.
“When you are part of the RFS you are not only helping your own backyard either, you could be called to help anywhere.”
After a couple of relatively wet years, fuel loads have built to a concerning level across large parts of the state.
RFS and multiple partnering agencies and landholders have spent the cooler months reducing as much of the hazard as possible before the fire season starts.
With the Bureau of Meteorology issuing an updated El Nino alert, there is now a 70 per cent chance of El Nino forming, which could mean an earlier start to the bushfire season and generally hotter and drier conditions.
For the RFS, having as many people on the ground as possible will be vital. Mr Cooke said the opportunities for volunteers to increase their skills was another incentive to get involved.
There are many volunteer roles available that do not involve entering the fireground, including in community education, administration, incident management and communications.
To join your local Rural Fire Brigade, visit https://www.qfes.qld.gov.au/join-our-team/rural-fire- service-volunteer.