Australia — Global warming has left Victoria facing worse bushfire conditions than those that led to the deadly Ash Wednesday infernos of 1983. Victorians face a potent mix this summer of above-average temperatures and below-average rainfall, a Senate committee heard yesterday.
CSIRO expert Stephen Morton compared the next six months with 1983, when 47 died in the Ash Wednesday fires.
Asked by Victorian Liberal senator Michael Ronaldson whether it was correct the “likely fire conditions” would be “as bad or worse than 1983”, Dr Morton replied: “Given the extent of the warming trend, the answer has to be yes.”
Victoria ranks with California and parts of southern Europe as the world’s most bushfire-susceptible areas.
Melbourne’s outer suburbs are facing a bushfire threat equal to Victoria’s driest regions, the CFA has warned.
CFA Chief Fire Officer Russell Rees urged residents on Melbourne’s fringe to make sure they had a fire plan.
He said any plan needed to include all family members. Neighbours also need to talk with each other about minimising fire losses.
Mr Rees said this season was a bad one. “The problem is very severe in and around the outskirts of Melbourne,” he said.
“You only need a small fire to have a big impact on a number of houses.”
Mr Rees said western and central Victoria were areas of concern for bushfire risk this season.
“The foothills of the Great Dividing Range, from Bendigo to the Strathbogie Ranges is very dry. There’s a lot of houses and a lot of difficult country in that area.”
Eighty per cent of Victorian towns are on water restrictions, with Melbourne yesterday moving to stage 2 restrictions as the drought worsens.
Of the state’s 397 towns and cities, 314 have had water saving measures imposed.
There are now 111 towns on stage 4 water restrictions, including Bendigo and Ballarat.
Stage 2 water restrictions came into force in Melbourne yesterday after Victoria had the hottest October in 92 years.
It is now an offence to use hoses to water lawns or wash cars with breaches attracting on-the-spot fines of $322.
Gardens can be watered only with sprinklers on alternate days. Sports grounds, including cricket pitches, golf and bowling greens are exempt.
Environment Minister John Thwaites yesterday said Melburnians could not rule out tougher stage 3 restrictions.
“We are facing the worst drought conditions and the worst stream flow we have ever had,” he said.
Drought-hit families will get free legal help under a $300,000 package announced yesterday.
Attorney-General Rob Hulls said people affected by the drought could get help through Legal Aid for mortgage, loan refinancing, contract and commercial law issues.
Treasurer Peter Costello last night told an Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry dinner: “With a fully functioning national market for water, there would be no need to ration water.”