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Tumbleweeds 'inundate' rural Aussie towns causing major threat: 'Hell in paradise'

The native grass, also known as kero grass, is a huge fire hazard, but there is no way of controlling the problem, experts say.

A notoriously annoying tumbleweed is once again engulfing regional parts of Australia, with residents complaining of piles blocking roads and even an airport exit.

Residents in rural NSW say stacks of Panicum effusum — otherwise known as “hairy panic”, tumbleweed, branched panic or kero grass for kerosene — are also lining the exterior of their homes, instilling concern about the bushfire risk.

Left, the hairy panic tumbleweeds stacked high blocking the exit of Dubbo Airport. Right, the native grass blocking off road access in regional NSW.
Shocking images show piles of 'hairy panic' grass blocking the exit at Dubbo Airport (left) and blocking roads in regional NSW. Source: ABC Riverina/Liz Smith/Marie Katalinic

Footage published by ABC on Thursday shows a wall of the seed heads blocking the exit of Dubbo Airport, with a passenger barely able to see over the top of the weeds. Last week, bus driver named Marie Katalinic told the publication a wall of “hairy panic” forced her to come to a sudden stop on a road, blocking her access.

NSW suburbs now 'hell in paradise'

Yarrawonga locals say the outbreak has turned their lovely neighbourhoods to “hell in paradise”. Phillip and Helen Johansen told the Yarrawonga Chronicle last week they have cleared 15 garbage bags full of the perennial grass from their front and back yards repeatedly in recent weeks.

“It is a massive fire hazard as it burns well. Just at our place, the working parts of the outdoor fridge are a worry because if the panic grass happens to get behind the fridge and into the wiring, a fire could start,” Phillip said, adding that some houses have been “inundated”.

“There is also the risk of snakes hiding in it as we do see the odd snake out here anyway and with such an amount of hiding space for them, they could be anywhere,” he said. “There are many elderly residents that are still living out here and aren’t able to clear any, let alone the sheer amount, of tumbleweeds finding their way into their yards.”

'No broad scale control' for hairy panic grass, expert says

Dr Anthony Young, a senior lecturer in crop protection, told Yahoo News Australia he believes all the recent wet weather has “led to a proliferation of this plant and so it is more abundant this year”.

He also explained that the weed - which appears during summer and can be found in every Aussie state - earned the nickname kero grass because “it is super dry and can stack up beside buildings such as sheds, and a spark will make it go up like kerosene”.

Hairy panic grass covering bushland in Grenfell, NSW.
An expert told Yahoo there are 'no broad scale control options' for the tumbleweed outbreaks. Source: Helen Carpenter/Facebook

Dr Shane Campbell, a senior lecturer in pasture science and agronomy, told Yahoo “Panicum effusum is one of the main species referred to as hairy panic but there are others in the genus that also fit the category”.

Because they are natives and pretty widespread, there are “no broad scale control options” to help residents in their battle.

Charles Sturt University crop science specialist Asad Asaduzzaman told the ABC two consecutive years of widespread management — including property owners and governments using herbicides — could help tackle the problem.

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