Australia – Concerns are mounting about the upcoming bushfire season after the ACT experienced its driest June on record and sixth driest July since 1982.
ACT Rural Fire Service Operations acting manager Rohan Scott said the Australian Bureau of Meteorology outlook warned of elevated fire danger risk for the season, usually declared in October.
“We are concerned that it has been dry and there is not much rain on the forecast,” Mr Scott said.
“At the moment they are predicting a higher than average fire danger period or severity of fires. But we have another forecast later in the year, another seasonal outlook from the BOM, before the season starts.”
At Canberra Airport in July there was 17mm of rain, 41 per cent of average monthly rainfall and in June just 2.4mm fell, six per cent of the expected monthly average.
Beyond the lack of rainfall Mr Scott said the 500 strong volunteer service was keeping an eye on fuel loads across the capital.
“The heavy fuel loads in the forest areas are quite dry,” he said. “Frost has a big impact on that, it sort of zaps the moisture out of fuel loads and we’ve had heavy frosts this year.”
Mr Scott said rain would help to fill up dams across the territory, most of which were half full.
“It’s a catch 22,” he said. “If we have some decent rain and spring growth that will then lead to a probably more dangerous grassfire season, depending on the weather we have around November through to January, that will dictate when that cures off and the grass season starts.”
Despite high variability in the weather and how this impacts conditions in months to come, the rural fire service maintained a constant level of preparedness.
“We hear prediction of horror fire seasons and everything else but we don’t do anything different in our preparation,” he said. “We prepare for the worst case scenario all the time.”
ACT environment minister Mick Gentleman said the ACT was “well placed for the coming fire season” as 95.9 per cent of the 2016/17 bushfire operations plan had been completed.
Firefighters carried out 12 prescribed burns covering 516 hectares, more than 6000 hectares of strategic grazing along the outer edge of residential areas, 437 kilometres of fire trail maintenance and 4733 kilometres of slashing in urban areas.
They also did 542 hectares of physical removal of fire fuels within the 12 month period.
Mr Gentleman said weather conditions last autumn in Namadgi were initially too dry and then rapidly turned too wet which limited opportunities for some larger planned burns.
“The remainder of uncompleted activities from last year’s plan will be rolled over as priority items into the plan,” he said.
“These are prescribed burns and some track maintenance that was postponed due to inclement weather.”
Since last season there has been three of the latest light unit fire fighting vehicles introduced in the ACT.
A new smoke management project has also been established with the Bureau of Meteorology, the Victorian government and ACT Health to generate more accurate smoke forecasts.
Mr Scott said even though the cold winter weather tended to push bushfires out of people’s minds, now was the time to prepare your property and firm up a bushfire survival plan for the summer.
“What we keep trying to get people to do is prepare their houses now, clean out their gutters and remove fuels from around their house,” he said.
“If that’s done now that will bode well for storm season and then they are prepared for when fire season starts as well.”