The Lindfield Park Road bushfire in Port Macquarie began 12 months ago

The Lindfield Park fire in Port Macquarie started on July 18, 2019. Photo: Sancrox/Thrumster Rural Fire Brigade.
The Lindfield Park fire in Port Macquarie started on July 18, 2019. Photo: Sancrox/Thrumster Rural Fire Brigade.

It has been 12 months since the first bushfire of the devastating and unprecedented 2019 bushfire season on the Mid North Coast began.

The Lindfield Park fire at Port Macquarie started on Thursday, July 18 last year and burned for more than 200 days, consuming in excess of 400 hectares of peat in the process.

Believed to have been deliberately lit, RFS Mid Coast district officer, Stuart Robb, said the fire presented a host of challenges to those fighting it.

Being a peat fire, the blaze burned horizontally beneath the soil layer and continued to pop up in new places.

Traditional methods of combatting the fire, such as digging the peat out of the ground, were also complicated by the environmental characteristics of the area.

"We had acid sulfate soils, we had the fact that it was peat, we also had the fact that we were in a bio-bank, we were also in a koala habitat, and we also had sensitive vegetation, so all of those factors meant how we could deal with the fire at hand was somewhat more difficult," Mr Robb said.

"Put on top of that the fact we had such little rain and the area was so dry."

Did we think we'd still be fighting fires in February/March, six months after the event? No.

Stuart Robb

Eventually, the RFS transferred more than 65 megalitres of reclaimed water from the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council's water treatment facility through a three kilometre hose line to rehydrate the wetland and raise the water level.

This measure, combined with significant rainfall in February of this year, saw the fire finally extinguished.

But by then it had caused considerable damage to the local environment.

"It damaged and destroyed the bio-bank - which was the council's bushland area that had been set aside - it significantly damaged the koala habitat, it impacted on properties in and around the Lindfield Park area," Mr Robb explained.

The 2019 bushfire season was considered unprecedented on the Mid North Coast. Photo: Shane Chalker.

The 2019 bushfire season was considered unprecedented on the Mid North Coast. Photo: Shane Chalker.

He said he had never seen a bushfire start so early in the season.

However, despite the concern this raised, he believed it was impossible to predict the devastation that followed.

"I can't say we thought that was a bad omen," he said.

"Did we think we'd still be fighting fires in February/March, six months after the event? No."

What followed was an unprecedented bushfire season across the region, with a total of 58 fires in excess of five hectares burning across the Mid Coast and Port Macquarie-Hastings local government areas in the six months between mid-July and late January.

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Mr Robb said weather conditions made for a very difficult season.

"If you're in drought and you haven't had significant rain you get high temperatures, you get strong winds, you get all those factors that will be devastating to the landscape should fire be introduced," he said.

"Last year we didn't have rain for months. Very dry conditions, no moisture in the ground, fires burning - basically firefighters putting water on them was the only method of extinguishing them."

Thankfully, he thought it was unlikely the region would see similar conditions this bushfire season, given the healthy rainfall figures we'd experienced so far this year.

"Indications are that our fire season will not be anywhere near as aggressive as it was last year," Mr Robb said.

"But that's saying everything stays normal for August, September, October, et cetera."

Most importantly, he hoped the devastating impact of last year's fire season had instilled in people a better understanding of the challenges bushfires presented and the role we all played in facing those challenges.

"I'm hoping that communities take note of the significant impact a fire can have across the landscape and that there is a limit to what combat agencies can do in relation to fire and the impact it has on communities," Mr Robb said.

"Community preparedness is very significant and making sure you've got that bushfire survival plan, making sure properties are prepared, making sure you do everything possible to ensure the impact a fire can have on your property or your community or your small area is minimised is really important."

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