Gippsland’s Winter Bushfire

Conran fire (ABC)

It has been a general prognosis of climate change theory for many years that as the planet warms our fire seasons will become longer and we will experience more frequent large and severe bushfires. Clearly these predictions are now being fulfilled.

The fire last week at Cape Conran is the first bushfire of consequence in living memory to occur during winter.  The current bushfire declaration in NSW is the earliest ever and the CFA is issuing warnings that fire bans may be introduced in September. Last year the early November fire at Cann River was itself an extension of the bushfire season and we had the situation of major fires in the northern and southern hemispheres.

This year the fire season ended with damaging fires at Tathra in March. Now we have the fire in August at Cape Conran as the first of our winter bushfires giving an extended fire season of 8 to 9 months. The devastating bushfire in California last December whilst Cann River fire was still burning was the first time the fire seasons of the northern hemisphere and Gippsland overlapped. Now with Cape Conran and a multitude of blazes across the northern hemisphere it has happened again. The tradition of fire fighters from Australia helping western North America during their fire season and reciprocated here during ours may soon be a thing of the past.

An article by ABC journalist Nicole Asher on the Cape Conran fire and the possibility of fire bans being brought in next month noted “the season looked like it would be the worst in a decade” and that fire restrictions will be imposed in Gippsland in September and go through to April. The severe dry conditions in the region are noted but the article does not mention the obvious influences of climate change – warmer, dryer, less soil moisture.

As with the extended fire season the increased frequency of major fires is also becoming obvious. Major fires last century occurred in 1939 and 1983 at about 40 year intervals. This century so far we have had major fires in 2003, 2006/7 and 2009 at so far roughly 6 year intervals and with a very close (and obvious) correlation with the drier times. The largest fires in area recorded have both been this century – 2003 and 2006/7. These fires also burned for the longest period of time – over 2 months. In terms of fatalities Black Saturday is the sad winner followed by Black Friday (1939) and Ash Wednesday (1983).

When coupled with the problem of inertia and the lack of action by governments worldwide we can safely conclude that our fire season will soon be all year round and that fire emergencies and other related problems such as severe droughts, possible food shortages, along with other unknown outcomes will eventually lead to the adoption of climate emergency governments.