Notes on our 2017-18 Bushfire Season

Recent Tathra bushfires (District News Bulletin)

I can recall reading a CSIRO publication on climate change that was published in 1989 predicting that fire seasons would become worse and the fire season would grow longer. The latter extended season is now definitely with us in south-east Australia and Gippsland. Large bushfires at Cann River in November 2017 and Licola in March 2018 are hopefully the bookends of an otherwise moderate fire season.

Recently Climate Council’s Dr Martin Rice noted: “Intensifying climate change is exacerbating extreme weather events including rising temperatures, severe heatwaves, supercharged storms, flooding, intense rainfall and even bushfires…” and “High bushfire danger weather has been increasing in Southeast Australia over the past forty years due to worsening climate change, which unfortunately has increased the odds… [of] dangerous fires…”

Due to loss of property it has been the recent bushfires at Tathra (which apparently was experiencing record warm temperatures) and in the Western District that have been in the news. The Age ran an article on Tathra councillor Jo Dodds headed “’I’m furious’: Tathra councillor says now is the time to talk climate”.

Ms Dodds’ anger was directed at PM Turnbull. The article further noted: “Mr Turnbull may well have picked the wrong community to be dismissive about climate change…” and that “Tathra, and the wider Bega Valley area, has long had a goal of reaching 50 per cent renewable energy sources of electricity and cutting energy use by half from 2006 levels by 2020, led by the Clean Energy For Eternity group.” She sensibly called for a return to bipartisanship on the climate question.

For the first time in living memory – perhaps the first time ever – there have been bushfires in northern and southern hemispheres at the same time. Whilst bushfires devastated property in California’s autumn and into their winter with a large fire in December at the same time as a substantial bushfire in Gippsland at Cann River was burning out of control. This fire eventually burned an area of over 8000 ha but did little property damage.

Following closely climate change predictions our weather patterns have been all ‘topsy turvy’ with dry spring and autumn but a relatively benign summer – three months with normal temperatures, certainly no heatwaves, and regular rainfall giving us an almost bushfire free summer. I can’t recall east Gippsland having a ‘total fire ban’ day or an ‘extreme fire danger’ day this season.

The long term Bureau of Meteorology forecasts for the next quarter for south-east Australia are for above average rainfall. So we await the autumn ‘break’ and in the meantime wonder if there is a right time to talk about bushfires and climate change?