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How many people does it take to fight a bushfire?

The devastating bushfires that swept through the Blue Mountains towns of Springwood, Winmalee and Yellow Rock in October 2013 prompted the NSW government to declare a state of emergency. The fires burned for more than 10 days, destroyed 203 homes and severely damaged 286 more.

The threat of bushfire is a regular feature of life in Australia, especially in the hot and dry summer months. Before the arrival of Europeans, the Indigenous population’s use of fire for hunting, farming and land management reduced the risk of large conflagrations taking hold in the bush. In the last two centuries, however, the severity of bushfires has become much worse. Longer fire seasons due to the changing climate and a build-up of fuel has resulted in terrible firestorms, like those seen in the Black Saturday bushfires that besieged Victoria in February 2009, which claimed 173 lives and destroyed over 2000 homes.

In NSW, the task of putting out bushfires falls with NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS), the world’s largest volunteer fire service. The RFS was established in 1997 after a coronial inquiry into the 1993/94 bushfire season, which saw 4 lives lost, 206 houses destroyed and18,000 volunteers fight over 800 fires, called for the management of bushfires to fall with a single body. Since 2007 the agency has been led by Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, who reports to the Minister for Emergency Services.

Numbers supplied by NSW Rural Fire Service

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