Byline: JULIAN LUKE and JEREMY SOLLARS
AS fires ravage New South Wales and Victoria, it has emerged the Glen Aplin/Ballandean region has all the ingredients for a similar catastrophe.
Rural Fire Service Stanthorpe group officer and Southern Downs councillor Cameron Gow yesterday told the Daily News since horrific fires - which destroyed homes and took one life - ripped through the region in 2002, fuel had remained at dangerously high levels.
"The conditions in the lead up to every fire season since have been similar, we've had some good rain since 2002 so the fuel load is as high as it was then - I think it's up to 20 or 30 tonnes per hectare," Cr Gow said.
"It only takes dry conditions, heat above 35 degrees, low humidity and winds above 30 kilometres an hour... they are the ingredients for fire - it's just a matter of time.
"Now we know those sort of fires can occur here, Stanthorpe has the highest fire risk in the state and as a result support and training is higher than anywhere else."
He said it was pure luck weather conditions had not fouled in the past few days while a fire blazed south of Glen Aplin.
"The fire was a little bit unexpected - it has certainly dried off here in the last month," Cr Gow said.
"We are concerned we've got a fire with conditions so changeable. If we do get a severe wind change come through then we will have to increase our response level and see if we can't make sure it stays within containment lines."
Cr Gow said fire crews were back-burning until about 2am yesterday.
"The 2002 fire here was absolutely comparable to the ones we've seen in Victoria," he said.
"The group of combined brigades has been around for 10 years or so, we worked with the council to get levies basically as a result of an almost level-three fire in 1994.
"We deemed we were then under-equipped and not sufficiently trained."
Cr Gow said because of the actions taken after the 1994 fires, they were able to save more people and homes during 2002.
"You have to make a decision when a fire becomes uncontrollable to turn to a defensive tactic if you like. There were people who should have received bravery awards," he said.
"In 2002 there was one main front, which started from power lines crossing over in extreme winds. It went for about 28 days officially but there was obviously mopping up long after that."
He said now was the time people should be exceptionally vigilant in ensuring they were as well prepared as possible to deal with a bushfire.
"Keeping an area within so many metres of the house clear of debris and long grass is essential," Cr Gow said.
"By far the biggest cause of houses burning down is having leaves or debris in the gutters. The embers land on the roof and roll into the gutter and away it goes."
Stanthorpe Police Senior Sergeant Mark Ireland said the cause of the Glen Aplin fire was still unknown.
"It's very rugged bushland where it did start," Snr Sgt Ireland said.
"Inquiries are continuing and nothing is being discounted."
Rural Fire Service Glen Aplin Brigade first officer Ian Townsend yesterday told the Daily News the brigade had lit more than 100 fires during the last fire season to keep fuel down. …