Is Australia getting more fire prone? We can thank climate change for that

The fire seasons we experience each year seem to be getting more intense. Am I just imagining things or is there some science to back this up? Climate change might be to blame.

If you’ve been living in Australia, and in Victoria in particular, you’ll know that bushfires are part of daily life over summer. In fact, Victoria is one of the most bushfire prone areas in the world. So if bushfires are nothing new, then why the concern?

Photo credit: berknot via Flickr.

 

 

Climate Change: it’s getting hot in here

First and foremost: we have always had bushfires but we have not always had climate change.

According to the International Panel on Climate Change, anthropogenic climate change will cause rises in surface temperature, more frequent heatwaves, reduced rainfall and increase the risk of extreme events.

Fire and its behaviour are influenced by several factors: fuel availability, weather, ignition agents, and of course, people. The impact that climate change can have on fire factors could be pretty significant.

In addition to hotter weather and reducing rainfall, which increases the risk of drought, climate change can also increase the amount of fuel available to the fire. Drier conditions cause higher levels of evapotranspiration in plants, which makes the fuel more flammable.

It’s easy to see that if we are going to be living in a warmer world, we will be experiencing more fire than before.

Australian average temperature anomalies from 1910-2015. Image credit: Mrfebruary via Wikimedia Commons.

 

A warm winter fire –and not the good kind 

If you have a hard time believing the science, you don’t have to look further than the news to see evidence of changing fire seasons.

Recent fires in New South Wales and Victoria highlight that fire seasons are starting earlier. The fires near Bega and Ulladulla started in August, which is the middle of winter. There were also several fires in East Gipplsand starting at this time.

These winter time fires, coupled with the drought in many of these areas, has prompted emergency services to bring the Fire Danger Period forward.

In Victoria it will start on September 10 and it will last until May next year –that means the danger period lasts for eight months.

Fire season is no longer a summer time event, in fact experts warn that Australia could be facing bushfires year round.

Photo credit: Darren C via Wikimedia Commons.

Fire around the world  

It’s not just Australia that’s been experiencing longer, more intense fire seasons.

In Europe, recent fires in Greece made international news for their ferocity, resulting in large amounts of property damage and the devastating loss of at least 90 lives.

In North America, California experienced its worst fire in history with the Mendocino Complex fire, and over half of the state’s most destructive fires in history have occurred in the last decade.

There’s an argument that the increase in extreme fires is the result of poor forest management rather than global warming. Fire suppression started in North America in the early 20th century, meaning that fuel has built up over the decades.

But how does this account for Australia, where forest management is strictly implemented?

 

Summer plans? Be fire ready

 Whether a you’re a climate change believer or a denier, there’s no denying that the upcoming fire season in Victoria will be a tough one.

Many states are in partial or complete drought, and the recent outlook by the Bureau of Meteorology predicted a warm, dry Spring. There is also a 50% chance of El Nino forming, which usually means below average rainfall and higher temperatures.

Remember to have your fire plan ready for this season and make sure you know it off by heart. Check on your family and friends and look out for your neighbours. Most of all, stay safe this summer!

 

Photo credit: Davidonformosa via Wikimedia Commons.

 

 


6 Responses to “Is Australia getting more fire prone? We can thank climate change for that”

  1. Lauren Cain says:

    Thanks for your comment! I haven’t looked into that so thanks for your suggestion. I think that would be another blog post in itself if I investigate it, maybe I could write a series? However I do know that multiple severe fires in short time is having a negative impact on many tree species (even ones that require fire for germination) because of the intensity of the fires has increased as well as the frequency. And even if they do survive, other conditions such as drought often finish them off after the fire has passed.

  2. Lauren Cain says:

    Thanks Oakley! Yes hopefully this season won’t be as bad as predicted, but emergency services will definitely be working hard this summer I think.

  3. Oakley Germech says:

    Aaaah, scary – great blog, Lauren 🙂 Fingers crossed summer isn’t a repeat of 2009!

  4. randersen says:

    Great read Lauren. Have you looked into how the extended fire season might affect species that rely on fire for germination?

  5. Lauren Cain says:

    Hi Deb,
    Thanks for your comment! Glad the message is clear. Fire safety is super important and its only going to become more of an issue as time goes on.

  6. deb says:

    Hi Lauren,

    I really liked your article. It was articulate and clear. The visuals made it very engaging. It is such an important message to get out, especially for those in fire prone areas.