Australians are being warned to brace for an active bushfire season, which has started early in states such as Queensland and NSW.
The seasonal bushfire outlook – released on Wednesday – shows the east coasts of Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania, as well as parts of southern Western Australia and South Australia, face above-normal fire potential.
It follows a warm and dry start to the year.
“This year we’re seeing a potentially very active year again across the country,” Bushfire and Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre CEO Dr Richard Thornton said on Wednesday.
Dr Thornton pointed to increased average temperatures, as well as declines in rainfall, particularly in Australia’s east.
The outlook document notes that areas such as NSW and south-eastern Queensland are into their third year of dry conditions.
An early start to the fire season has been declared in many areas across eastern Australia, the outlook notes.
“The dry landscape means that any warm and windy conditions are likely to see elevated fire risk.”
Queensland emergency services, in particular, are preparing for a dangerous season, with weather experts warning the outlook is “not a good news story”.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services deputy commissioner Mark Roche said the fire season had already started in the state, with several blazes coming close to homes and killing wildlife in the south-east last week.
“The bushfire season has started early and we expect it will go later as well,” he said.
“Over the last couple of weeks we’ve seen some significant fires. We note this report in the bushfire outlook and we believe we are very well prepared.
“But we need the local community, we need the local government to be prepared and support us side by side.”
He said significant fire activity was expected from Rockhampton to the NSW border, and also out to the west.
“We know that we have some dry areas in the Granite Belt and Darling Downs, where we will have some challenges in terms of water supply, so we’ll be looking at some more dry fire-fighting techniques,” he said.
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The warning comes after last year’s “unprecedented” fires in central Queensland, when more than 2600 fires burnt about 4 million hectares of land.
NSW has also already had several fires this month, NSW Rural Fire Service senior assistant commissioner Bruce McDonald said.
Mr McDonald equated the conditions to those in 2013, when more than 200 homes were lost in one afternoon in the Blue Mountains.
Fire chiefs from all states urged people to be prepared for the bushfire season.
‘Communities not well prepared’
Dr Thornton said this year’s fire season would be driven by many of the same weather patterns experienced in recent years.
“We will see a lot of the activity in the east, [which] is dominated both by an increased average temperature and also a decline in rainfall,” he said.
He said much of the community was not prepared for the fire season and this would be a good “trigger point” for people to start thinking seriously.
“Even in the areas that are not in red or above normal, fires are a normal part of the Australian landscape and fires can start anywhere and without warning,” he told the ABC.
“In fact, many communities will not receive a warning because fires will be on them so quickly.”
David Jones from the Bureau of Meteorology said the outlook was not “a good news story” given the climate drivers.
“Australia is currently experiencing one of its most severe droughts in our historical records,” he said.
“It certainly will be a very challenging fire season and we certainly anticipate an early start and a long season.”