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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

South Australia faces catastrophic fire danger

Catastrophic Fire Danger warning has been issued for two regions in South Australia - Flinders and North-West Pastoral districts - because of predicted extreme temperatures, strong winds and low humidity. This is the first time this top classification fire warning has been used in Australia.

Fire weather warnings have been revamped following the Black Saturday fires in Victoria in February 2009 which killed 173 people. The Fire Danger warning system has been refined with the top classification being a Code Red Catastrophic Fire Danger [100+], followed by Extreme Fire Danger [75-99] and Severe Fire Danger [50-74] .

It is likely the Catastrophic Fire Danger [100+] will also apply on Thursday for the Northwest Pastoral and Flinders Total Fire Ban districts. Extreme Fire Danger [75-99] is forecast for the Northeast Pastoral, Eastern Eyre Peninsula and Mid North Total Fire Ban districts.

The Country Fire Service of SA advise that "Where Fire Ban Districts have a forecast of Catastrophic or Extreme, to ensure your survival you should leave tonight or early tomorrow morning, well before a fire starts, and where the forecast is for Severe, you should only stay and defend if you and your home are extremely well prepared."

This follows a record breaking heat wave Across South Australia in the first half of November with Adelaide experiencing 8 consecutive days in excess of 35°C from Sunday 8 November to Sunday 15 November. New November heatwave records were also set for many regional towns in South Australia. The heatwave has dried out much of the grasslands and bush exacerbating the fire danger with the extreme temperature conditions, low humidity and strong wind conditions.

Victoria feels the heat

Extreme Fire Danger warnings have also been issued for the Mallee and North East regions of Victoria, with other regions classified as Severe and Very High. The heatwave across Victoria's northern regions has lasted two weeks, with six of 14 days above 40 degrees. Today is the 13th consecutive day above 30 degrees.

CSIRO researchers in a 2007 report 'Bushfire Weather in South-East Australia: Recent Trends and Projected Climate Change Impacts', said that fire will become more frequent. In south-east Australia "The number of 'extreme' fire danger days generally increases 5-25% for the low scenarios and 15-65% for the high scenarios. By 2050, the increases are generally 10-50% in the low scenarios and 100-300% for the high scenarios. The seasons are likely to become longer, starting earlier in the year." said the report. All the Climate change indicators are tracking at the high end of expectations.

Scientists have indicated more extreme weather events will be generated as Climate change accelerates, including storms, floods and bushfires. Changing climate will increase the frequency and the intensity of these events making them much more destructive and dangerous.



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