A fire restriction period has been declared for Latrobe City, Baw Baw and South Gippsland shires, starting today and running until May 1 next year.
Country Fire Authority District 27 operations manager Bryan Russell urged property owners to start clearing up now before hot and dry conditions set in.
“Now is the trigger for people to prepare their properties, clear twigs and sticks, slash grass and remove any fuel for when the seasons starts. We urge people to clear now,” Mr Russell said.
The fire restriction period means fires are banned without a permit and stringent conditions surround activities that could spark a fire.
Mr Russell urged locals to look at the CFA publication Can I Can’t I to find out exactly what the rules were.
He said locals should prepare themselves for severe fire days and make a plan in case a fire does come through.
“Don’t make a decision on the spot,” he said.
Mr Russell said the Bureau of Meteorology’s seasonal bushfire outlook predicted an earlier than usual season due to warmer and drier conditions.
“We’ve had more rainfall in the Latrobe Valley than in East Gippsland but we are still down on normal rainfall so it’s a drier than normal year,” Mr Russell said.
“This means it will dry out quicker and burn more readily. The bush is also dry and there will be more fuel available to burn.”
A fire danger period had already been declared for the Wellington and East Gippsland shires on September 10 because the region is in drought, making it the earliest date on record.
Mr Russell said recent soaking rains in the Latrobe Valley had sprouted good growth along roadsides and in paddocks which would make fire-suppressing activities more difficult.
“Reducing fuel loads will ensure that if a fire does occur it has less chance of taking hold or spreading,” he said.
He said while relevant government agencies were doing everything to prepare for the bushfire season, the community also needed to use common sense and take responsibility for preventing fires.
Mr Russell warned that the CFA had a zero-tolerance approach to unauthorised fires and any fires lit from negligent behaviour would be investigated by police.
He said even if people do have a permit to burn they needed to read the conditions carefully to avoid being prosecuted.
People should register their burn-offs by phoning 1800 668 511. For more information, visit cfa.vic.gov.au or phone 1800 226 226.