The mayor of Port Stephens has hit out at the NSW Rural Fire Service and environmentalists, saying fire-affected residents weren’t allowed to carry out hazard reduction burns.


The RFS on Monday downgraded fires at Fingal Bay and Salt Ash in the Hunter region from “watch and act” to “advice” after a southerly change on Sunday night ended 24 hours of extreme conditions.

Six properties were reported damaged or destroyed between Salt Ash and Tanilba Bay after a heatwave pushed temperatures above 36 degrees in some parts of the state.

The mayor of Port Stephens, Bruce MacKenzie, blasted authorities, including the RFS, for not allowing residents to conduct hazard reductions.

“I believe several houses have been lost, which is a disaster as far as I’m concerned,” he told ABC radio on Monday.

“To me, all preventable if people were allowed to burn off. The Rural Fire Service, the politicians and the greenies have a lot to bloody answer for.”

RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said firefighters were doing more hazard reduction than ever before but there was more to be done.

The RFS had “very good mechanisms in place” to help landowners do hazard reduction, he said.

The RFS has set up an evacuation centre at the Community Hall in Nelson Bay Road, Williamtown, in response to the fires, and roads in the area remain closed.

It says firefighters are working to strengthen containment lines in the area.

Fire and Rescue NSW Commissioner Greg Mullins said he felt for the people who were affected by the fires.

But he said the losses were “quite small”, given what he described as the enormity of the task.

“I know that the mayor up there will be pretty raw today,” he told ABC radio.

“But we had dozens of crews up there assisting dozens of Rural Fire Service crews until about 1.30 this morning.”

Mr Mullins said fire breaks in some areas had made homes safer but hazard reduction alone would not stop fires.

“There’s other things you need to do, it’s not that simple,” he said.

“The sort of vegetation up there, you can burn it, it’ll burn again in about two years because it grows back very quickly.”