The summer's horror bushfires came amid weather conditions beyond what could have possibly been predicted, according to the man in charge of fighting them.
Former NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons gave evidence at the national bushfire royal commission yesterday.
Commissioner Fitzsimmons said the RFS was preparing for heightened risk ahead of the 2019-2020 fire danger season, increasing firefighting equipment and focusing on capacity for dry firefighting techniques.
He said while the seasonal outlook ahead of the fire danger season was "almost identical" to that of the 2018-2019 season, the widespread drought conditions created unprecedented conditions across a longer, uninterrupted time-span.
"We saw an area burnt across NSW like we haven't seen before, particularly across the forested areas and we saw a protracted nature of the fire season without any meaningful interruption from weather." Commissioner Fitzsimmons said.
He said the RFS relied on both localised and multi-jurisdictional teams of modelling experts to predict the severity of fires based on the conditions, and those teams generally modelled a best and worst-case scenario with the real outcome of a fire normally falling somewhere in the middle.
"What we found this season on a number of occasions, the fires were certainly getting to the worst case scenario and on a number of occasions were exceeding the worst case scenario," Commissioner Fitzsimmons said.
"We saw fire behaviour at 2, 3 or 4 in the morning the likes of which you might normally expect at 2, 3 or 4 in the afternoon, where traditional conditions are at their worst."
Following the fires, the commissioner left his role with the RFS to head up Resilience NSW, a government body tasked with coordinating bushfire recovery and initiatives to mitigate future fire risks.
He said Resilience NSW was working to facilitate a "whole government approach" and assist fire-affected communities dealing with the compounding effects of drought, fire, flood and COVID-19.
He said part of the aim of the new organisation was to shift the national fire response towards a proactive risk management focus rather than a response-oriented one.
A new risk the RFS is facing going into the next fire danger season is the continued threat of COVID-19 to volunteers.
A RFS document provided to the royal commission noted the close quarters and confined areas volunteers operate in meant should a member become infected, a large number of their peers could be quarantined placing a severe strain on resources.
Current RFS Commissioner Rob Rogers said the RFS was working on managing coronavirus and had already reduced the number of people allowed in vehicles, RFS facilities and base camps while initiating temperature checks and additional hygiene practices.