Australia — Victorians have been urged to brace for an “above normal”, earlier and longer fire season that could bring about 4500 to 5000 bushfires and grassfires.
Although residents are still shivering through cool temperatures, parts of central and western Victoria had received record-low rainfall this year and were considered at elevated risk of fire.
Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley and Emergency Services Minister Jane Garrett on Wednesday urged people to be prepared for the bushfire season before it started.
Asked if Victoria could have serious bushfires earlier than last summer, when houses were lost in north-east Victoria in mid-December and thousands of hectares were burnt, Mr Lapsley said: “I think so. The forecast that was put on the table yesterday clearly shows that we will have an earlier, longer season.”
Mr Lapsley said climate forecasts suggested Victoria could experience summer heat earlier than normal. “The summer will start early, so the fire season in Victoria could be [here] in the late part of November,” he said.
He advised people to conduct fire prevention works in October and November, before the bushfire season. “Preparing early will be critical,” he said.
“A well-prepared property is a property that will survive. And the time to do it is during spring,” he said.
Mr Lapsley said Bendigo, Ballarat, Horsham and surrounding areas were at particular fire risk because of the dryness. High population areas on the fringes of Melbourne, and outer Melbourne areas close to bushland also faced fire risks, he said.
The driest part of the state was in central and western Victoria, he said, in a pocket roughly bounded by imaginary lines running west from Sunbury to Ballarat, on to Horsham and then east to Bendigo, then to Seymour, Epping and back to Sunbury.
The dry conditions of 2015 had contributed to some “quite intense” planned burns this year, he said. A further indication of dryness was that in some farming areas dams were low and not likely to receive significant rains during spring. “In some parts [of Victoria] it’s actually almost a semi-drought,” he said.
Addressing the media at the State Control Centre, Ms Garrett said residents of fire-prone areas who had grown up in the “inner-city or suburbia” needed to be especially aware of the risks posed by their surrounds.
She also urged people to know where they would get their fire information from, and to discuss fire risks and preparations with their friends and relatives.
“We need people to understand it will be long, hot and dry. We need people to have their fire plans ready,” Ms Garrett said.
“I know we’ve had a very shivery cold winter and it seems to be continuing on a bit unfortunately that winter has not yielded the rainfalls that we would like, and we have had below average rainfall in much of the state,” she said.
Victoria would have a fleet of 47 fire aircraft this summer at a cost of $23 million, including two large air tankers, Ms Garrett said. “Whenever fire hits, they will be ready to go,” she said.