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Powder keg: Australia primed to burn 2.68 MB

For the past three years, Australia has experienced wetter than average conditions, with record-breaking rainfall and floods across New South Wales (NSW), Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania (BoM 2022). This has been due to a rare, ‘protracted' La Nina event, together with a negative phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole and a positive phase of the Southern Annular Mode.

Given the years of rainfall since Black Summer, it is reasonable to expect that fire risk may have slipped from the Australian public’s consciousness. However, very wet periods often make fire services nervous, because they are a double-edged sword. On one hand, rain keeps vegetation wet, reducing the likelihood of ignition and limiting fire spread during the wet period. On the other hand, it leads to prolific growth, even in ‘desert’ areas that typically have insufficient vegetation to pose any fire risk.

Key findings:

  • History shows that grass fires follow floods. Firefighters fear that the spring of 2023 and summer of 2023-2024 could see widespread grass fires, supercharged by climate change.
  • Australia’s protracted La Nina episode is giving way to hotter and drier conditions including the possible formation of an El Nino event. As a result, we will almost certainly see a return to normal or above normal fire conditions across most of Australia in coming months.
  • Governments must prepare for a potentially devastating fire season ahead, while stepping up efforts to move beyond fossil fuels and ensure greenhouse gas emissions plummet this decade.
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