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Bushfire outlook: Warm, dry winter ratchets up threat level ahead of summer fire season

Wednesday September 6, 2017 - 07:01 EST
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Researchers expect the bulk of the population will face above-normal bushfire risks this year. - ABC

The vast majority of the population will face above-normal bushfire risks this year and homeowners must prepare now, Australia's fire chiefs have warned at the launch of the bushfire outlook.

The Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre's (CRC) latest has predicted elevated fire risk for the bulk of eastern and South Australian coasts.

and , increasing the bushfire risk.

On top of this, predictions of warmer weather in the south-east this spring suggest bushfires might arrive earlier and be more active.

A map released by the CRC shows the most populated areas of southern and eastern Australia at higher risk.

Fire chiefs sound alarm for coming summer

in Sydney this week to discuss the fire season ahead, which is beginning earlier than normal.

They urged homeowners to prepare for the season ahead.

"The majority of Victorians will be living in places that will be rated as the highest risk parts of Victoria for this summer, which means it's time to act," Victoria's fire commissioner Craig Lapsley said.

He said the forests of Victoria are a particular concern.

"We're already seeing some fires in the very eastern parts of Victoria, very difficult to manage, and that's in winter moving into spring," he said.

NSW fire commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said conditions in some areas this year are worse than previous disastrous seasons.

"The vegetation moisture levels today are considerably drier and are showing a worse situation than they were leading into the 2013 fire season," he said.

"We need a lot of rain to displace the moisture deficit across the landscape."

Commissioner Fitzsimmons said the large aerial fire bombers had already arrived in the state in preparation for a bad fire season and it was possible he would have to declare catastrophic fire days this season, given the conditions are worse than 2013.

"As an indication, in August we have see over 2,300 fires — indicative of how dry the landscape is, how easily fires are starting, and how quickly they're spreading," he said.

Queensland's fire season has already started and the area at greatest risk is its holiday playground from south of Rockhampton to the NSW border.

Acting Queensland commissioner Mike Wassing said Tropical Cyclone Debbie produced a lot of vegetation growth, but that had since dried out.

"What we've also seen with ... Debbie is it ripped the canopies out of the trees. That put fuel load onto the ground and exposed it to more sunlight than normal," he said.

"It significantly increases fire behaviour as a result."

Bushfire outlook puts all states on notice

The CRC outlook, released today, stated:
South-east Queensland can expect an above-average fire season after record winter temperatures
The chance of an early start for the Victorian fire season swamping its traditional late start in the year, with spring conditions to play a large part in fire severity
New South Wales appears set for above-normal fire potential for the eastern forested areas after below-average rain led to a drier fuel load
The same for Tasmania, with a dry winter leading to an early fire season with increased fire risk
In the ACT, the bushfire potential is above-normal due to upper soil and forest fuel dryness
South Australia has increased the risk of fires in the north and central south after abundant growth last year dried out this winter
The south-west of Western Australia recorded its driest autumn in five years, with above average potential for fires.

The , predicted above-normal fire potential for western and northern Queensland and Western Australia and throughout parts of the Northern Territory's centre and north.

Winter conditions lead to summer fire concerns

The Bureau of Meteorology said south-west WA has been getting dry for about 40 years, so the fires were more intense and start earlier.

South-west region fire superintendent Peter Norman said the floods earlier this year had not helped.

"That just increased fuel loads with grass growth and obviously increased dangers, now that that has cured and dried through the driest winter and autumn in five years," he said.

Overall across Australia, rainfall in winter .

According to BOM's outlook, with climate drivers ENSO and IOD at neutral there is no widespread likelihood for wetter or drier conditions in spring.

However, stronger than normal easterly flows across the south of the country could cause parts of the east coast to have increased chance of wetter conditions, while there is an increased chance of it remaining dry in the west.

The BOM forecast maximum temperatures would likely be warmer than average for northern and south-eastern Australia.


© ABC 2017

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