There has been a massive increase in the number of volunteer bushfire fighters in Alice Springs.
"Vollies" captain Shawn O'Toole says until earlier this year there were about five or six volunteers. Now there are about 40, taking part in training.
Meanwhile warmer weather and winds are creating dangerous fire conditions although Grant Allan, of Bushfires NT, says close to three quarters of the town's periphery are secure now because recent blazes have already consumed the extraordinarily high fuel load there.
And the Department of Lands and Planning says it will not prosecute for a loading infringement of a truck driver taking a grader to a blaze north of town to stop a fire advancing towards buildings in a quarry.
The department has not yet responded to questions from Alice Springs News Online about any liability the government may have for fires starting along roads it has responsibility for, and that may enter pastoral land, causing losses of fodder, man-hours fighting the fires and expenses for the use of graders and possible damage to them.
Members of the Hayes pastoral family say of the multitude of fires they had to fight this year, all but one had come from public roads. ERWIN CHLANDA reports. Picturedgetting the low-down from Shawn O'Toole (second from left) on the pump mounted on an "operational vehicle" are "vollies" (from left) Diane Chanut, Wayne Phillips, Alan Leahy, Katherine Hastie and Nikolas Sestokas.
Photo above: Map of bushfires in Central Australia earlier this week. Bottom: Peter Latz, native grasses in the left of the photo; thick buffel on the other side of the fence.
Massive rains last year boosting exceptional plant growth made it inevitable that 2011 would be a major year for bushfires – but authorities are still gearing up to cope with them.
The fire west of Alice Springs is still burning out of control, but no longer in the immediate vicinity of the town.
Matt Braitling, from Mt Doreen Station, the chairman of Bushfire NT's regional council, says the fire fighting effort had to focus on protecting assets, including Aboriginal outstations at Bond Springs and the Golden Mile just west of the town, either side of Larapinta Drive leading to the West MacDonnell Ranges.
Meanwhile according to one of Central Australia's most eminent wildfire experts, botanist Peter Latz, the massive blaze last week burning right up to the western edge of Alice Springs is no surprise but came a bit earlier than expected.
The author of Bush Fires & Bush Tucker and The Flaming Desert says the fire will probably protect the town from a much worse one later in the year.
Dr Latz says the ferocity of the fire was caused mostly by buffel grass, introduced as a dust suppressant by the CSIRO decades ago, and now covering much of Central Australia.
While trees mostly survive the "cooler" flames of native grass, many were destroyed, including trees in the West MacDonnell national park: "Where there is thick buffel under the mulgas they are dead." ERWIN CHLANDA reports.