Blue Mountains Fires 12 Months On - Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons‏


Today marks the one year anniversary, where on the 17 October 2013, more than 200 homes were destroyed and a further 150 damaged, across the Blue Mountains, Lithgow, Hawkesbury, Southern Highlands, Port Stephens and Central Coast areas, as ...a result of bush fires burning in NSW.

Between 13 - 26 October 2013, there were more than 600 fires across NSW that burnt out more than 160,000 hectares. Weather and fire conditions resulted in 11 days of total fire bans and a significant coordinated firefighting effort. The commitment was considerable with up to 2000 firefighters being deployed per day, from NSW RFS, FRNSW, NPWS and Forestry, and we also benefited from the assistance of more than 1400 colleagues from interstate agencies.

As I said at the time of last year's emergency, I believe we have the best firefighters in the world. The professionalism of our NSW RFS volunteers, as well as those of FRNSW, NPWS, Forestry Corporation and the broader Police and emergency management sector, is second to none.

Today is an opportunity to pause and remember the events of last October. While the losses were substantial for many, and especially difficult for those who lost so much, or indeed, some cases everything, it is worth reflecting on the work of the firefighters and fire managers who focussed on saving lives and thousands of homes and businesses in what was a very difficult and dangerous time.

Our investment over the years in improving training, technology, standards, equipment, systems, etc., has not only resulted in improved fire management and response but as we witnessed last year, enhanced our role in providing public information and warnings to those impacted or at risk of fire. Strong partnerships with the media, use of technologies such as the internet and social media, as well as traditional community door knocks and meetings resulted in affected communities being better informed than ever before and therefore, better equipped to make decisions about their safety.

The lack of serious injury or loss of life to our firefighting teams, as well as those in the community they worked so hard to protect, is testimony to the firefighting effort. May we never forget however, resident Walter Linder of Lake Munmorah who passed away on 16 October after suffering a heart attack whilst defending his home, and our firefighting pilot David Black who died on 24 October when his water bombing plane crashed during firefighting operations west of Ulladulla.

Today is also about celebrating the incredible resilience of our people and their communities, who after going through such a terrible disaster, continue to work together in seeking to rebuild and recover. We should continue to watch out for each other and pay attention to those who might still be doing it tough.

One way that we can all help those areas that are still recovering from the fires is to visit. Take a drive to the area, have lunch, and perhaps even stay a night or two. For every dollar spent with local businesses, the benefits to that community spread much further.