On the 21 November 2019, an electrical storm passed over east Gippsland igniting a number of fires in the bone-dry bush. Bushfires were already raging across much of NSW and Queensland. On December 1, I posted the first of many blogs (see here and here) on our bushfires. This blog was a reminder of the CSIRO warnings of 1987 on the increasing threat of bushfires in a warming planet – we should have been more prepared for this bushfire catastrophe. This particular blog attracted more than 7000 readers and remains my most read post. It also contained the first mention of our local fires as a footnote.
A few weeks later, these fires had grown into four major bushfires of more than 10,000 hectares each – in the upper Nicholson, at Ensay, Bruthen and W Tree. On December 19, I suggested that the fires had the potential to join and create a monster bushfire of the size of those in 2003 and 2006/7. This prediction was critiised as ‘alarmist’ on the social media but quickly became a reality when three of these fires joined in a matter of days.
The bushfires advanced rapidly to Mallacoota on New Year’s Eve and images of the fire and evacuations from shore made headlines around the world. On January 2 a bushfire emergency was declared by the Victorian government and evacuation advice was recommended for virtually the whole of East Gippsland except for the Bairnsdale area.
By January 5 the fires had amalgamated and the burning or burnt areas stretched from Clifton Creek near Bairnsdale to Eden in NSW. On 19 February I blogged that the bushfires were burning still, that some of my friends’ houses had been lost, and ABC journalist Kellie Lazzaro reported that there were still 650,000 hectares of active fire. Subdued in parts by some good rains the fires trickled on for the rest of the month making the length of the fires more than 90 days eclipsing the length of the mammoth fires of earlier this century.
As the fires were widely spread across eastern Australia it is hard to quantify some of the statistics but this was definitely the longest and the biggest bushfire our region (and almost certainly Victoria) has ever experienced. And as the CSIRO warned us in 1987 these fires will start earlier, and get longer and bigger as the planet warms. Meanwhile we are still waiting for most of our politicians to connect the ‘warming’ dots.