THE Illawarra might have escaped a bushfire disaster last Tuesday, but the catastrophic conditions were the newly-formed Illawarra Local Emergency Management Committee's first test and, as temperatures are predicted to rise again later this week, RFS personnel have warned the risk is not over yet.
The planning committee, made up of representatives from NSW Police, the Rural Fire Service, the State Emergency Service and the Illawarra's three councils, was formed only last November when the Kiama-Shellharbour committee joined the Wollongong committee.
Committee chair and Kiama Council director of Engineering and Works Bryan Whittaker said the union of the two former committees removed duplication and the region-wide alert last week was a good test.
"It was critical because it was, potentially, such a widespread emergency - it was the first time [an alert] covered the whole Illawarra and I think [the arrangement] worked very well," he said.
"It will stand us in good stead, touch wood."
A briefing was held on Tuesday morning to identify risk areas and ensure all resources were on standby in the event of a bushfire.
An Emergency Operations Centre was established at Illawarra Regional Airport where representatives from the major organisations monitored conditions during the day.
"Really, the RFS can take care of themselves and they're well equipped," Mr Whittaker said.
"We're there to give support - if they need a water tanker, we'll provide it."
The potential evacuation of Jamberoo Action Park was raised as a concern, however a traffic management plan was put in place and Mr Whittaker said it would have been "unreasonable" to expect the park to close.
"There were a lot of cars and potentially a lot of people needing to get out quickly," he said.
"It's fairly clear of the bush."
Seven Mile Beach and Budderoo national parks and the Illawarra Fly were closed while Jamberoo and Foxground rural fire brigade crews manned their stations and monitored conditions.
Jamberoo Rural Fire Brigade acting captain Cameron McInerney said a dry summer was expected.
Bushfire survival plan kits can be downloaded from www.rfs.nsw.gov.au.
The Kiama municipality currently has two Neighbourhood Safer Places as a last resort in an emergency - the Gerroa Boat Fisherman's Club car park and the Foxground Rural Fire Brigade station on Foxground Road.
Illawarra Zone RFS Superintendent Richard Cotterill said no locations in Jamberoo were far enough away from bushland and fuel to establish an NSP in that area of the municipality.
He also said Jamberoo had a lower fire risk than some parts of the area, which had more grassland fuels.
Superintendent Cotterill praised the region's emergency services for their efforts during last week's "catastrophic" bush fire risk conditions but also warned that the risk could be with us until March/April.
He said the Shellharbour, Wollongong and Kiama SES units also worked well together, operating on a larger scale in co-operation than before.
And Mr Cotterill reminded residents that the dangers weren't over yet.
Instead, he said that it was shaping up to be a long summer, with warmer temperatures and potential bushfire weather conditions extending beyond the traditional summer months and into March/April.
"We can't afford to not be vigilant all the time," he said.
"People need to be mindful of what's going on around them."
He also reminded the community to lookout for any firebugs or other hazards, and report suspicious behaviour.