Eastern states set for severe fire season

Eastern states set for severe fire season

26 August 2009

published by www.abc.net.au

Australia — With unusually high temperatures throughout parts of eastern Australia this week, there are major concerns the bushfire season will hit early and be severe.

Experts are predicting trouble, especially for Victoria and New South Wales.

And while Queenslanders normally worry about cyclones, this summer they too will need to brace for extreme temperatures and fire conditions.

Temperatures of 36 degrees in August have had Brisbane residents sweltering this week and scientists say the rising temperatures are a sign that everyone should be worried about bushfires this summer.

New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria are all expected to bear the brunt of El Nino-type weather conditions.

The assistant commissioner for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, Rob Rogers, says the fire season has started early in that state and will continue through to the end of March.

But he says Victoria is worse off.

“As far as their underlying level of drought, it is worse than New South Wales,” he said.

“They’re going off more than a decade of drought so their situation is more dire than New South Wales. But in saying that, there’s obviously no room for complacency from our point of view because really the south-east corner of Australia is the most problematic as far as bushfires, certainly severe bushfires.”

It is seven years ago this summer since there were state-wide fires across New South Wales.

In that period, the state has been in drought and there has been a significant rise in the number of houses built in fire-prone areas.

The senior lecturer in fire ecology at the University of Melbourne, Dr Kevin Tolhurst, says Sydney and surrounds are on high alert.

“The Blue Mountains area and a lot of the Sydney sandstone areas are all quite vulnerable because of the nature of the forest there,” he said.

“We know from previous fires that fires can move very quickly through there and that they’re very difficult to get to. Because of the exposure of a lot of houses on the tops of ridges and close to bush, they’re very exposed.

“I think that something we’ve underestimated in the past, is how important it is to consider the impact of very large fires – they’re distinct from just the bushfire running at you on a normal face if you like.”

New South Wales and Victoria are traditionally in the firing line each summer. But this year, experts like Dr Tolhurst warn south-east Queensland should also brace for fire.

“I think one of the things that we’re seeing with the warming climate and the current outlook is that we’re likely to see temperatures well above average again, and also rainfalls down,” he said.

“So places like south-east Queensland, who have generally had a more mild environment, are likely to see more severe fires in the future as well and that’s going to come as a bit of a shock I think to people on the coast there, because they haven’t experienced that before.

“I think south-east Queensland in particular is quite vulnerable, especially with the number of new people moving into that area.”

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