FIREFIGHTERS are urging locals to be prepared for trouble as the bush fire danger period is declared early in Lake Macquarie and the Central Coast.
The bush fire season usually starts on October 1 each year.
This year, it will start on September 1.
The Rural Fire Service (RFS) on Thursday declared the bush fire danger period date would be brought forward this year - just as it was last year.
Right on cue, a grass fire near the M1 Pacific Motorway at Cooranbong forced the closure of northbound lanes on Friday as RFS crews worked to bring the fire under control.
Northbound traffic was diverted at Mandalong Road, where traffic queues reached five kilometres.
The RFS said the decision to bring forward the start of the bush fire danger period was prompted by ongoing warm and dry conditions.
RFS Superintendent Viki Campbell urged locals to know the risks and take precautions now.
"We have experienced a long dry and warm spell, which is increasing the bush fire danger across the region," Superintendent Campbell said.
"There are simple things you can do now to get ready for bush fire season - such as talking with your family about your bush fire survival plan, preparing your home or property, knowing the bush fire alert levels, and making sure you know where to get information during a fire.
"The things you do now can make a big difference to your safety during a fire, and whether your home survives."
The RFS website rfs.nsw.gov.au provides a step-by-step guide to creating a bush fire survival plan.
Landholders are also urged to be cautious with hazard-reduction burns.
"Permits are required during the bush fire danger period. They're free and easy to get by contacting your Fire Control Centre," Superintendent Cambell said.
Last week, Central Coast Council anticipated the early start to the bush fire danger period (see story page 4) and eased regulations to allow residents to undertake pile burning on large properties without the need for a council permit - subject to a range of conditions.
Rural property holders in Lake Macquarie City can carry out pile burns, in accordance with the council's open burning policy.
Open burning or pile burning, on land greater than 4000 square metres - and zoned environmental, rural landscape, primary production, private recreation or transition - is permitted to manage dead and dry vegetation.
During the bush fire danger period, however, a fire permit is required from the local fire authority, and no-burn notices and total fire bans still apply.
"Council encourages residents to be emergency ready and prepared in the lead up to bush fire season," a spokesperson for the council said.
"Lake Macquarie residents and businesses can register with the Australian Early Warning Network to receive free emergency alerts via mobile phone (SMS), email and landline about severe storms, damaging winds and bush fires which are likely to impact our area.
"Residents can also download the RFS Fires Near Me app to help stay up to date."
Superintendent Campbell said property owners should only ever contemplate a pile burn if conditions were safe.
"Never leave a fire unattended and if a fire does escape, it is essential to call Triple Zero (000) immediately so that emergency services can respond accordingly and minimise the damage," Superintendent Campbell said.
For information on planning and preparing for fire, visit myfireplan.com.au.
Information on permits and total fire bans can be found at rfs.nsw.gov.au or by contacting the Central Coast Fire Control Centre on 1300 060 807.