When fire seasons collide

Smoke clouds seen from space. Photo: NASA Johnson CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

North and south bushfire seasons are beginning to coincide in Western Australia due to changing weather conditions fuelled by climate change.

This year, cyclones and rainfall in the north of WA have delayed the bushfire season which usually occurs from June to October. This could potentially cause an overlap with the southern season between November and April.

Department of Fire and Emergency Services spokesperson Rik Mills said: “In the last three to five years we’ve seen a sort of blending of the periods affecting both the north and the south concurrently.”

Simon Bradshaw is a researcher of climate science and impacts with the Climate Council of Australia. He said that the process Mr Mills described is “consistent with what we have to expect with climate change, with fire seasons getting longer and therefore overlapping”.

If and when this an intense coinciding season happens it will put pressure on the state, and both Mr Mills and Dr Bradshaw believe resources need to be managed appropriately.

There is a normal expectation for the south of WA this season. “This means that the threat of a bushfire is elevated,” said Mr Mills.

But with the extra rainfall the north has experienced this season could potentially be more dangerous.

Dr Bradshaw said: “Although rain does reduce the risk of fire, it also prompts more vegetation growth, which can dry out very quickly in the summer and then add more fuel and an elevated fire risk.”

BLM-Idaho’s Clay Stephens Assists with Australian Bushfires by BLMIdaho CC BY

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, the average temperature in WA is rising each year. Along with environmental moisture, weather patterns and fuel conditions, the rise points to severe and frequent bushfire seasons in WA.

“Regardless of the variations from one season to another, the long term trend is very clear. We’re looking at a direct result of climate change with progressively more dangerous fire seasons over the years,” Dr Bradshaw said.

“We’re going to see things get a lot more difficult over the coming decades and we’re going to need to adapt to that reality.”

DFES is preparing for the potentially harsh season through mitigation measures such as prescribed burns.

This year DFES launched new planned burning guidelines called Burn SMART, to help private landowners in conducting burns safely on their land.

Mr Mills said the guidelines aimed to help residents in training and understanding the risks involved with prescribed burns, in order to minimise fires that could get out of control.

“There’s months of preparation that go into a prescribed burn, and while it can cause some smoke nuisance, it’s important to create safer environments for firefighters to be working in, if a wildfire does break out.”

Categories: Environment, Weather

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