Large swathes of eastern Australia face an “increased risk of fire” this summer but authorities aren’t expecting conditions to be as bad as the black summer of 2019-20.
Record-breaking dry conditions and warmer-than-average temperatures during early spring are expected to be followed by hot El Niño conditions persisting into next year.
Combined with vegetation growth supported by previous La Niña rains means there is an increased bushfire risk “for large areas of Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory, as well as locations in Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and West Australian”, the national council for fire and emergency services (Afac) said in its seasonal bushfire outlook.
Sydney, Brisbane and Perth are all in the firing line.
The national manager of climate services at the Bureau of Meteorology, Dr Karl Braganza, said Thursday’s forecast was “not a 2019 situation” which followed two years of drought.
“The fact that we have had convective rainfall, a bit of a recharge into the soil, moisture in vegetation, is good news,” he said. “But it typically doesn’t take a long time to try out.”
If December didn’t see decent rainfall the “fire danger would rapidly elevate”. “That is the precautionary outlook Afac has put out,” Braganza saud.
Heavy rains have delivered floods to parts of south-eastern Australia in the final days of spring.
“I guarantee there are some people … with fires not on their minds at the moment,” Rob Webb, the Afac chief executive, told ABC radio on Thursday. “[But] although it is raining in the south-east at the moment there are still three hot months to come.”
The odds of rainfall have reduced in the tropical north which typically sees monsoon rainfall over summer. Outside the tropics, Braganza was hopeful the chances of rainfall would remain “average”. But WA has continued under a dry spell “so we have already seen fire activity there”.
Rainfall across the east at the end of November “hopefully ameliorated fire conditions”, Braganza said, pointing to areas that were previously dry including the NSW south coast and East Gippsland.
For places such as Perth, where there has been a lack of rainfall over spring, there was “certainly still elevated fire danger”.
Australian fire agencies have had “a busy start to the bushfire season”, the Afac outlook noted.
“We have already seen quite devastating fires into parts of north-eastern Australia, coastal NSW and into Victoria,” Webb added. “We only saw last week … how quickly a fire can start and take up a large number of houses.”
Eighteen homes were destroyed in an out-of-control bushfire in metropolitan Perth.
Webb urged locals in high-risk areas to “take action”.
“Wherever you live, work or visit this summer, know where to find bushfire information, prepare your property, and talk to your family and friends about what you will do in an emergency.
“When or if a fire comes along, or they see smoke on the hill, they can know straight away what they’re going to do and how they’re going to stay safe.”
The whole continent is anticipating above-average temperatures for summer, Braganza said. Extreme temperatures that increase chances of heatwaves are likely for south-west WA, the northern tropics and extending down into south-east Queensland and northern NSW.