If current weather trends continue, the coming fire season could shape up to be more active than normal.
Acting Operations Manager for CFA District 2 Chris Jacobsen said that if dry conditions in central Victoria continue the forest fire season was a worry.
Parts of the state will enter the Fire Danger Period as early as September 9, but District 2 will not be among them.
Mr Jacobsen said the CFA would monitor conditions in the district from September, before declaring the beginning of the Fire Danger Period for the district.
He said the beginning date of the period was determined by weather conditions and rainfall forecasts.
Mr Jacobsen said that current conditions were similar to those which preceded some of the worst fire seasons on record.
“If you look at historically similar periods, then we’ve ended up with some of our worst bushfire periods,” Mr Jacobsen said.
“Overall the long term forecast is probably slightly warmer and drier than normal, and probably a slightly more active season than normal at this stage.
“If the current trends continue, the forest season worries me.”
Warm warnings from Bureau
Spring is likely to be drier than average across southern Australia, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s seasonal outlook issued on Thursday.
Bendigo was unlikely to receive more than its median spring rainfall of 125 millimetres this year.
The city has a 100 percent chance of receiving at least 50 millimetres however, and a 40 percent chance of receiving 100 millimetres.
The Bureau said it was unlikely any of central Victoria would receive an above average rainfall.
Central Victoria is also likely to see above average daytime temperatures continue into spring according to the outlook.
Part of the bigger picture
Dry conditions are just part of the problem. Some experts believe seasonal weather events are being compounded by the effects of climate change.
Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre CEO Dr Richard Thornton said data showed Australia had a “locked in” increase in average temperatures of at least one degree.
This increase would make weather extremes, such as hot summer days, that much more extreme.
He said long term drought and a rain deficit over large areas of the country had also preconditioned the environment to catch alight more easily.
This meant normal summertime events which would make fire more likely such as hot, dry days, would happen on top of a baseline level of increased risk.
“The vegetation is already dry, it’s ready to burn,” Dr Thornton said.
Dry conditions in central Victoria are part of a worldwide pattern, that’s seeing fire seasons start earlier and earlier.
Dr Thornton said longer fire seasons meant people had to be prepared for fires all year round.
“There’s a worldwide trend when we look at the fire seasons around the world, that fire seasons are starting earlier and finishing later,” he said.
“On days that are hot dry windy, even in August we can get fires.”
Dr Thornton pointed to recent fires in Gippsland, NSW and Queensland as examples of this trend.
Earlier seasons meant the window for hazard reduction was smaller.
Changing climates, changing people
As Bendigo’s population increases, so does human vulnerability to fire.
It’s the areas on the edges of cities, where population meets the bush, that are particularly at risk of damage caused by fire.
Dr Thornton pointed to social trends such as tree-changes as part of a social trend that makes more people more vulnerable to fire.
“We’re also seeing more and more people choosing to live in areas that are higher risk,” Dr Thornton said.
“Any areas which have bushland, grassland, vegetation on them that is close to properties, are the ones that are really a risk in terms of the community.”
Bendigo has seen approximately 15,000 people move to the area since 2007, an increase of 1.6 percent.
“In and around Bendigo there’s been a large population increase of people moving out of the metropolitan areas,” Dr Thornton said.
“You’re probably getting an aging population in those areas which is increased in vulnerability to bushfires.”
Mr Jacobsen agreed, saying in Bendigo many people lived in forest land.
“It’s where you have the weather, the fuels and the landscape, and people that you have the biggest impact on the greatest amount of people,” he said.
Plan and prepare
Mr Jacobsen urged the community to plan and prepare for the fire season.
He said people should know what their plan is for a day of extreme fire risk.
“It’s no good waiting to that day until you can see the flames… you have to have that plan,” Mr Jacobsen said.
He also urged people to prepare their homes for the fire season.
If you look at historically similar periods, then we’ve ended up with some of our worst bushfire periods.Chris Jacobsen, Acting Operations Manager CFA District 2
Keeping grasses cut, cleaning up twigs and litter and reducing ground fuels were all critical to reducing risk of bushfire damage to a home, Mr Jacobsen said.
“To fail to plan is to plan to fail,” Mr Jacobsen said.
“The CFA cannot guarantee we will get a truck to every house in a major fire. People have to have their own plans in place.”
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