OBERON fire crews responded to 44 grass, scrub and bush fires in a fire season which outgoing NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons described as the most devastating in NSW history.
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The fire season - which saw more than 200 continuous days of firefighting - officially ended on March 31.
The first fire in the Oberon area was a two-hectare blaze on Shooters Hill Road in late September, and the last was a small grass fire on Mutton Falls Road at O'Connell six months later in late March.
But in between came the 220,000-hectare Green Wattle Creek megablaze, which at its western fringe came within about 15 kilometres of Oberon township, and was only halted when it ran out of wilderness fuel and fire crews were able to gain concentrated access to the firefront.
The other large blaze, the Kowmung River fire, began on November 27 and grew to nearly 34,000 hectares before joining up with the Green Wattle fire.
Crews came from across the state to help Oberon and other area units battle a blaze which stretched to the Southern Highlands in the east and beyond Wombeyan Caves in the south.
The Jenolan fire shed was destroyed at this time and the Jenolan Caves complex closed for many weeks.
Mr Fitzsimmons - who has announced his retirement to head the new NSW disaster agency - said this season had been unprecedented in terms of the intensity of the conditions, the loss of lives and property, and the threat to communities across NSW.
RFS crews and other agencies responded to more than 11,400 bush and grass fires, that burnt more than 5.5 million hectares (55,000 square kilometres) - or 6.2 per cent of the state.
"The fires also destroyed 2448 homes; however the great work of our firefighters saw 14,481 homes saved," Mr Fizsimmons said.
"There were six days where areas recorded catastrophic fire weather conditions."
At the height of the fires, there was an average of 2500 firefighters on the firegrounds each shift, with up to 4000 on the most dangerous days.
The firefighting effort saw the RFS work with Fire and Rescue, the Parks and Wildlife Service, Forestry Corporation of NSW, NSW SES, NSW Police, NSW Ambulance and the Australian Defence Force, as well as interstate crews.
"Most tragically, 25 lives were lost, including those of the three US aerial firefighters," Mr Fitzsimmons said.
He also gave a warning.
"The next bush fire season is only months away, so keep your property prepared and have your bush fire survival plan up to date."
NSW Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers told the NSW Country Mayors Association last month that the service had received more than 47,500 invoices totalling more than $473 million from contractors and suppliers supporting the just-ended fire season.
These ranged from chartering a large air fleet of waterbombing aircraft and helicopters to supplying sandwiches and drinks for the fire crews.
Mr Rogers told the meeting, held in early March, that at that time 38,000 of the bills had been paid, and the RFS told the Review recently that the last of the payments were being finalised. Extra staff had been taken on to speed up the process.
Mr Rogers, the incoming NSW RFS commissioner, said that the need for better communications had been one of the lessons learnt from such an unprecedented fire season, and improved practices were called for in interagency support, national and international help and aviation support.
The 2.74 million hits on Fires Near Me on the NSW RFS website and 6.45 million downloads on Facebook showed that the information on these platforms needed to be accurate and current.
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