Fuel for Thought

Published: April 28, 2011

We have seen some horrific bushfires in recent years and all the indications are that – despite so much rainfall this summer – the risk of further disasters is larger than ever.

Indeed, Bushfires NT is warning the Territory is facing its biggest bushfire season in years, with huge areas of Central Australia expected to experience ‘intense’ grass fires as the weather dries out.

The organisation’s Director, Steve Sutton, says record rainfall during the wet season has resulted in large amounts of grass growth across the Territory. He says that means there is plenty of fuel for bushfires and that unlike other years, bushfires are not expected to be isolated to the Top End.

“We’re going to have widespread fires all over the Territory,” he told the ABC. “Normally we have fires in the Top End every year, as you know, and rarely in Central Australia. Fuel loads in the Top End are going to be higher than we’ve experienced in the past and that means hotter, more dangerous fires.”

Mr Sutton believes that this is one of those rare years where there will be fires in Central Australia … and they are not going to be mild. He says for the first time in years, grass in some areas in Central Australia is waist-high.

“Central Australia has had well above [average] rain over the last couple of months and that’s led to fuel growth,” he said. “So parts of the Territory that haven’t really had any vegetative fuel on them for five to seven years have now got waist-high grass as far as the eye can see.”

Mr Sutton says people need to be prepared for the worst bushfire season in years.

Of course, the threats are the same across the country and new research suggests the bushfire menace will grow larger year on year.

The CSIRO says our bushfire risk will increase by 25 per cent in less than a decade if climate change pushes up average temperatures by just 0.4 degrees by 2020.

The research shows that risk could more than double by 2020, with the number of extreme fire danger days increasing by up to 65 per cent, if average temperatures rise by one degree.

In a newly published CSIRO collection of peer-reviewed research outlining the climate challenges facing Australia, climate scientist Kevin Hennessey said it was likely the world would see a 2-degree rise in global temperatures ”on top of changes already experienced within the lifetime of a current generation”.

He said the research showed the Australia’s fire index was ”trending upwards” in some areas of southern Australia as a result of higher temperatures and worsening drought.

It’s sobering stuff and a reminder yet again for us all to be careful with campfires, cigarettes and any gas appliances. It is also a reminder to be ever aware of the bushfire danger, particularly when we are camping in remote areas.

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