Be prepared: climate change and the Victorian bushfire threat

8 Dec 2014

Firefighters, emergency services and communities need to prepare for much greater bushfire risk from climate change, argues this report.

Key findings
1. Climate change is increasing the risk of bushfires in Victoria and lengthening the fire season.

  • Extreme fire weather has increased over the last 30 years in Victoria. The fire season in Victoria is starting earlier and lasting longer. Fire weather has been extending into October and into March.
  • Australia is a fire prone country and Victoria has always experienced bushfires. Today climate change is making hot days hotter, and heatwaves longer and more frequent, with increasing drought conditions in Australia’s southeast.
  • Record breaking heat and hotter weather over the long term in Victoria has worsened fire weather and contributed to an increase in the frequency and severity of bushfires.

2. Victoria is the state most affected by bushfires and is on the frontline of increasing bushfire risk.

  • Over half of known fatalities due to bushfires in Australia have occurred in Victoria.
  • Victoria has sustained around 50% of the economic damage from bushfires despite covering only 3% of Australia.
  • Victoria’s 2014–15 bushfire season outlook has been upgraded from an “above normal” fire season to a “major” fire season following record October warmth and expected ongoing hot, dry conditions.

3.Recent severe fires in Victoria have been influenced by record hot, dry conditions.

  • The 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria were preceded by a record breaking decade-long drought with a string of record hot years, coupled with a severe heatwave in the preceding week.
  • In the lead up to the bushfires on Saturday 7th 2009, maximum temperatures were up to 23°C above the February average in Victoria and record high temperatures for February were set in over 87% of the state.

4. In Victoria the economic cost of bushfires, including loss of life, livelihoods, property damage and emergency services responses, is very high.

  • The total economic costs of bushfires in Victoria in 2014 are projected to be more than $172 million. By around the middle of the century these costs will more than double.
  • These projections do not incorporate increased bushfire incident rates due to climate change and so could potentially be much higher.
  • These projections do not incorporate increased bushfire incident rates due to climate change and so could potentially be much higher.

5. In the future, Victoria is very likely to experience an increased number of days with extreme fire danger. Communities, emergency services and health services across Victoria must prepare.

  • Fire severity and intensity is expected to increase substantially in coming decades in Victoria. The fire season will continue to lengthen, further reducing the opportunities for safe hazard reduction burning.
  • Increasing severity, frequency and the lengthening fire season will strain Victoria’s existing resources for fighting and managing fires.
  • By 2030, it has been estimated that the number of professional firefighters in Victoria will need to approximately double (compared to 2010) to keep pace with increased population, asset value, and fire danger weather.
  • Australia must cut its emissions rapidly and deeply to join global efforts to stabilise the world’s climate and to reduce the risk of even more extreme events, including bushfires.
Publication Details
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Geographic Coverage