CLIMATE CHANGE, WEATHER, AND WILDFIRES

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“The level of very hot weather being experienced
now, in which fierce fires can break out, has
already surpassed what had been projected for
2050 …”
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Sydney Morning Herald
September 27, 2007

New species of fire monster heading our way
Wendy Frew Environment Reporter

BUSHFIRES that burn so hot they cannot be
controlled are likely to occur much more
frequently in Sydney in the years to come, razing
bushland, leaving property more susceptible to
flooding and threatening water supplies, new
research indicates.

The level of very hot weather being experienced
now, in which fierce fires can break out, has
already surpassed what had been projected for
2050, the report on bushfire weather in
south-east Australia by the Australian Bureau of
Meteorology and the CSIRO says.

“Whether it is caused by climate change or not,
the pattern of the past few years gives us a
model for the future,” said Dr Chris Lucas of the
bureau’s Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre.
“How are we going to manage this level of fire
risk? What are we going to do to manage these
fires?”

Of most concern to fire fighters are days
classified as having very high or extreme fire
danger. The report projected that in NSW those
days would increase in four scenarios examined.

For example, at present inner Sydney experiences
one day a year of extreme fire danger. If the
rate of global warming is low (a rise of 0.4
degrees above 1990 temperatures), the number of
extreme fire days increases by between 11 and 21
per cent by 2020 and from 13 to 34 per cent by
2050 (with a rise of 0.7 degrees).

If the rate of global warming is high the number
of extreme days rises by between 26 per cent and
50 per cent by 2020 and by as much as 200 per
cent by 2050 when temperatures are expected to
have risen by 2.9 degrees.

Richmond, on Sydney’s western outskirts, does not
currently experience what is defined as a
catastrophic fire weather day but with high
levels of warming they may occur every four years
by 2050. The same is true for inner Sydney.

The more extreme the hot weather, the more
damaging any fire that breaks out, Dr Lucas said.
In the case of catastrophic hot weather, fires
become uncontrollable, with only a change in the
weather likely to help bring them under control.
“Anything above the ‘extreme’ category is
uncontrollable,” Dr Lucas said. “Even fires that
break out on very high-danger days would need a
lot of work to put out.”

He said with fires burning hotter and longer,
they not only posed a threat to bushland and
property but degraded the land, eroded soil and
changed water run-off patterns.

“Some research has found that after a big fire
you are more susceptible to floods because there
is nothing to hold the water back.”

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