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Take-home lessons from week’s extreme weather, fires

Tathra bush fires March 2018

AS THE MID-MARCH fire catastrophes, including Tathra near Bega, enveloped communities and residents, the Australian Science Media Centre gathered some expert comment on the extended fire season and the need for Australia to adapt to the changing climate. Some 70 homes and other buildings were razed in Tathra.

Dr Grant Wardell-Johnson, Associate Professor at the ARC Centre for Mine Site Restoration and School of Molecular and Life Sciences at Curtin University and President of the Australian Council of Environment Deans and Directors (ACEDD) said:

“Sadly, fires like this well into autumn are an increasing part of the southern Australian experience, as we move further towards climate disruption associated with continued increases in human-associated carbon dioxide (and equivalent) emissions.

“Intense fires will increase further – regardless of activity such as prescribed burning to reduce the fuel loads. We need to increase planning for events such as these.

“Given our weak efforts to reduce emissions globally – and especially in Australia, we will increasingly need to plan for catastrophic events and pick up the pieces following such events.

“A great start would be an acknowledgement of the seriousness of issues we face in climate disruption. A move from burying heads in the sand towards adaptation to climate disruption is well overdue.”

Dr Jim McLennan is a Bushfire Safety Researcher and Adjunct Professor at the School of Psychology and Public Health at La Trobe University said:

“The weekend’s disastrous bushfires remind us of two things.

“First, while we tend to think of January and February being our bushfire months, fires can strike us earlier or later. They have in the past. And with climate change upsetting our accustomed weather patterns, they are more likely to do so in the future.

“Our bushfire danger period is getting longer. This is going to pose real problems for our fire and land management agencies. Their windows for hazard reduction burning are getting smaller and the possibility of burns escaping is becoming more and more of a concern.

Strong winds make bushfires particularly destructive, not just high temperatures and low humidity

Second, contrary to our usual way of thinking, it is strong winds that make bushfires particularly destructive, not just high temperatures and low humidities. In the future, residents in rural areas and on the urban-bushland fringes of Melbourne and regional centres will need to be vigilant and bushfire-ready as a matter of routine for longer.”

Dr David Bowman is Professor of Environmental Change Biology in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Tasmania said:

“Four take-homes from this bushfire event:

  1.   This event shows destructive fires can occur ‘outside’ the summer bushfire season.
  2.   Fire seasons are lengthening globally in response to climate change, similar seasonally ‘anomalous’ destructive fires are being reported elsewhere in the world, such as California.
  3.   Living in close proximity to bushland carries considerable risks and demands residents have high levels of situation awareness, especially fuel dryness and weather conditions, outside the classical bushfire risk period.
  4.   Such events will trigger rethinking the way we manage fire risk to settlements in close proximity to flammable environments.”

Dr Joe Fontaine is a Fire Ecologist and Lecturer in Environment and Conservation Sciences at Murdoch University said:

“The home losses around Tathra, NSW are tragic and underscore the importance of bushfire preparedness.

“With increasing population and climate extremes, it is ever more important to do everything possible to reduce home susceptibility to ember attacks and to have a plan to defend or leave early.

“Management of fire hazards in adjoining bushland can contribute to reduced risk but cannot prevent rapid spread of bushfires and home loss under extreme conditions such as those seen on Sunday.”

IMAGE SOURCE: Facebook, Tathra bush fire appeal.


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