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Saturday, August 19, 2023

Is Australia prepared for a wildfire emergency in 2023 summer?

Queensland Fire incidents map Sat 19 August 11am

Early Fire season started this weekend in SE Queensland. Warmer temperatures with climate change is driving earlier fire seasons, more intense fire weather.

This fire season in Queensland is one month earlier start than the 2019-2020 bushfire season.

Key Points:
🔥 BOM says conditions ripe for high fire danger
🔥 Meteorologists warn people must take precautions
🔥 Australia's worst recorded bushfire season of 2019-2020 sparked on Queensland's Granite Belt in Sep 2019, burnt for months.

According to the Buraeu of Meteorology fire danger for the following regions were rated high on Friday: Capricornia, Central Highlands and Coalfields, Darling Downs and Granite Belt, Wide Bay and Burnett, Southeast Coast. All other regions were rated as moderate fire danger.

Lead meteorologist from the Bureau of Meteorology Matthew Bass told the ABC that a three-day period, from Friday to Sunday, presents the greatest hazard we've seen this winter. "Probably the highest [risk] day generally across the south-east is likely to be Saturday," he said. "That's actually a slightly cooler day, but it is a pretty breezy day coming through on Saturday, so … with those winds, combined with the dry conditions and high temps, the risk of fire starting is there." "The landscape is relatively dry at the moment," Mr Bass added..

"We haven't had to deal with too many fires and too many … active fire conditions for the last couple of years, actually, with La Niña hanging around," Mr Bass said. "But now that that has well and truly passed, this is a time to be aware and just re-familiarise yourself with fire, fire plans and emergency procedures, particularly in the months ahead."

On 18 August Climate temperature historian M. Herrera tweeted:

" Never ending record warm in Queensland,Australia which has been beating records of high temperatures all the past months.

Tropical nights in winter last night:
20.1C Sandy Cape
20.4C Hervey Bay
17.4C Dalby
Highest Tmins ever recorded in August

31.5C Yeppoon  highest Tmax."

Is Australia prepared for wildfire emergency this summer?

🔥 How prepared are we for the coming fire season? 👩‍🚒 Fire scientist David Bowman thinks we are sleepwalking into disaster. 🚒 How much did we learn from 2019/20 catastrophic Bushfires.

Fire scientist David Bowman thinks we need to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions AND also adpat to our new firy regime.

"Global warming – the result of fossil fuel burning – means bushfires will become more frequent and severe. Of course, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That is blindingly obvious. But we must do more than that. Australians must urgently adapt to our fiery future."

The bushfire Commission that followed the 2019/20 black summer bushfires identified the problems and some of the solutions... What must be done...

David Bowman again,

"When the bushfire royal commission handed down its report in October 2020, I described it as a “clarion call for change”. Finally, Australia had a map for its journey toward adapting to fires and other natural disasters." "The scope of the commission’s recommendations was vast. For governments alone, it called for changes across land-use planning, infrastructure, emergency management, social policy, agriculture, education, physical and mental health, community development, energy and the environment." "The commission also called for an acknowledgement of the role of Indigenous fire managers in mitigating bushfire risks." "Almost three years on, we haven’t seen the changes needed. We’re behaving as if we’ve got an endless amount of time. Australia is sleepwalking into our fiery future."

Australia a Powder Keg primed to Burn

The Climate Council warned in Feb 2023 that Australia was a Powderkeg, primed to burn.

Do we have the air tankers in place? Are the CFA/SES and other specialist fire fighting and emergency services being adequately resourced?

Key findings of the report:

  1. Australia’s three years of cooler and wetterthan-average conditions, due to a protracted La Niña event, temporarily dampened our bushfire risk. However, this has led to prolific vegetation growth that’s creating powder keg conditions for future fires.
  2. History shows that grass fires follow floods. Firefighters fear that the spring of 2023 and summer of 2023-2024 could see widespread grass fires, supercharged by climate change.
  3. Australia’s protracted La Niña episode is giving way to hotter and drier conditions including the possible formation of an El Niño event. As a result, we will almost certainly see a return to normal or above normal fire conditions across most of Australia in coming months.
  4. Governments must prepare for a potentially devastating fire season ahead, while stepping up efforts to move beyond fossil fuels and ensure greenhouse gas emissions plummet this decade.

The influence of climate change on the grass fire threat

"It is well established that climate change has a strong influence on weather patterns and extremes (IPCC 2021b). Extreme weather events are often associated with natural disasters, including fires, floods, cyclones and storms, as well as influencing other precursors for major bushfires, such as heatwaves and droughts.

"Climate change has been shown to influence Australian bushfires in a number of ways (see, for example, Sharples et al. 2016; Dowdy 2018; Abram et al. 2021):

› Drying effect: warmer temperatures result in increased evaporation, in turn drying out vegetation.

› 'Faster' droughts: A combination of lower-than-normal rainfall and higher temperatures together reduce overall land surface moisture, priming ‘flash droughts’ that develop over periods of weeks to months, compared to years or decades for conventional droughts (Nguyen et al. 2019; Pendergrass et al. 2020; Hadjimichael 2022).

› More frequent serious fire weather: Since 1950 there has been a marked increase in the number of days annually of Very High fire danger and above across Australia (BoM and CSIRO 2022). These are the days when large, damaging fires are more likely to occur, spread quickly, and cause more damage. (NOTE: after the 2022 changes to the Australian Fire Danger Rating System, the former rating of Very High now equates to “High”).

› Worsening fire weather: extremes are becoming more extreme. After the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria that killed 173 people and destroyed around 2,000 homes, fire services added a new category of fire danger: “Catastrophic”, because it was becoming increasingly common to exceed the theoretical maximum fire danger index of 100 (Australian Academy of Science 2021). This is because weather conditions have become hotter, drier and windier on the worst fire weather days over recent decades.

Is Victoria prepared for a bushfire emergency?

A/Prof Phil Zylstra highlighted on twitter the change in number of fires from 1980-2000 to the period 2001-2020.: “Compare the amount of Victorian wildfire in the last 2 decades to the two decades before that. We absolutely must dramatically increase rapid response, remote firefighting and small air attack capabilities, not decrease them as the Vic Gov are doing.”

Reporterss with the Age, Brian Wilson, Rachel Eddie and Benjamin Preiss, did a story on Victoria cuts water bombing capacity ahead of risky fire season in which they present that Victoria’s water bombing capabilities have been slashed by almost a third.  They quote from emergency responders, pilots and experts warnings that Victoria may not be prepared for the hot and dry summer ahead.

Based on leaked documents, they argue Victoria’s total aerial firefighting capability has fallen about 40,000 litres below last summer’s level.

The story reminds us that the royal commission into the Black Summer fires called on governments to expand aerial firefighting fleets because longer fire seasons meant jurisdictions had less capacity to share resources. People working in the emergency management sector say that surge capacity was going backwards with diminishing ability to share aircraft.

Source: The Age

Former emergency manager commissioner Craig Lapsley told the Age that aerial firefighting was becoming increasingly important.

“Aerial resources are becoming more critical in firefighting,” he said. “To me, it’s not the right time to be reducing resources.”

Fire scientist David Bowman says there has been little progress nationwide on the commission’s 80 recommendations. He artgues while aerial firefighting is important, and perhaps the simplest measure, that  more should be spent on preventative measures through communities and fuel load management.

“You need aerial firefighting, that’s a fact, But not at the expense of everything else. They’re not even doing that bit, which is politically the simplest. You can understand why fire scientists are depressed and shaking their heads in disbelief.”

Environment Minister Ingrid Stitt said in Parliament on Thursday that the state did 234 planned burns in 2022-23 and another 18 since July 1.

The aerial fire fighting fleet is progressively procured. However this is problematic this season as there are supply chain blockages that complicates the issue, as weel as a shortage of Pilots which suppress surge capacity.

This is all ocurring while we are seeing major wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere: in Greece, Spain, Nothern Africa, Canary Islands, Canada and Hawaii.

David Pope's cartoon sums up the situation in Australia. Maybe it needs an even larger Pyrocumulonimbus (PyroCB) cloud in the background labelled as Canada.

Wildfire Emergency in Canada

Even now, over 20,000 people are evacuating from Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories in Canada, with major fires threatening the city. Further major fires threatening Kelowna and West Kelowna in British Colimbia. There are fires burning in the Boreal forests across Canada.

Yellowknife, Capital of North West Territories ordered to evacuate

Evacuation of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories of Canada ordered. About 20,000 people ordered to leave by car on the only highway out, or by flight evacuation by midday Friday. Only essential workers and emergency workers will stay. Wildfire reported to be about 16km from the outskirts. There are about 230 wildfires in the North West Territory. Interview with Mayor Rebecca Alty on CBC News.  

Canada🇨🇦 : British Columbia State of Emergency declared

Premier David Eby declares a provincial state of emergency with the Wildfires situation. 
🔥 15,000 homes under evacuation order in BC
🔥 plus approx 20,000 under evacuation alert
🔥 Warning to stay alert, be prepared for evac warnings. If under evacuation, please leave. Don't put firefighters under additional risk
🚒 Only essential travel, keep roads clear for emergency vehicles
🔥 Situation unpredictable, difficult days ahead

Across Canada, nearly 15m hectares has burned to mid August, 3x more than the worst year from 2016-2022. (Graph via BBC)

Here is the total carbon Fire emissions from Canada wildfires as at 3 August 2023. Does this remind you of Australia's carbon emissions from the 2019/2020 catastrophic bushfires?

CAMS senior scientist, Mark Parrington, comments: “ We have been monitoring the emissions from wildfires right across Canada for three months since the beginning of May, during which time they have continued to increase almost continuously to a level which is already considerably higher than the previous annual total fire emissions for Canada in our dataset. As fire emissions from boreal regions typically peak at the end of July and early August, the total is still likely to continue rising for some more weeks and we will continue to monitor.” 


George Roberts, ABC News, 18 August 2023, BOM warns of potential early start to fire season in south-east Queensland, with winds combining with dry conditions this weekend

Professor David Bowman, The Conversation, 10 August, 2023, ‘Australia is sleepwalking’: a bushfire scientist explains what the Hawaii tragedy means for our flammable continent.

Greg Mullins AO, AFSM, Dr Martin Rice, Dr Joëlle Gergis, and Professor David Karoly, Climate Council, February 2023, Powder Keg: Australia Primed to Burn,

Brian Wilson, Rachel Eddie and Benjamin Preiss, The Age, 18 August 2023, Victoria cuts water bombing capacity ahead of risky fire season

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