Clashing bushfire seasons put the squeeze on firefighting resources: new report

AUSTRALIA’s bushfire preparedness is under threat from climate change as bushfire seasons here and in the Northern Hemisphere increasingly lengthen and overlap putting new demands on critical shared firefighting aircraft, a Climate Council report has found.

The Burning Issue: Climate Change and the Australian Bushfire Threat found the length of the fire season increased by almost 19% globally between 1978 and 2013. Longer fire seasons are reducing opportunities for controlled burning and intensifying pressure on firefighting resources.

The national report, released today, also warns Australia is at risk of facing similar conditions to those that sparked more than 50,000 fires this year across the United States, in one of the worst bushfire seasons on record.

“Years of severe drought in combination with warmer temperatures created the tinderbox that fuelled the North American bushfires,” The Climate Council’s Professor Lesley Hughes said.

“Australia will face the same set of circumstances more and more often in the future.

“Already, record-breaking temperatures in October have driven an early start to the bushfire season and large areas of south-east and south-west Australia are facing above-average bushfire potential this summer.”

The report also found:

  • Between January and October 2015 more than 50,000 bushfires burned over 38,000 km2 of land in the US – equivalent to more than half of Tasmania’s landmass; making it one of the worst bushfire years on record in the US.
  • Some of Australia’s key firefighting aircraft are leased from overseas and are contracted to North American firefighting services during their summer. The fire seasons of both hemispheres – and demand for critical shared firefighting aircraft – will increasingly overlap, challenging such arrangements.
  • During the past decade, state fire agencies have increasingly needed to share personnel and other firefighting resources during peak demand periods. This pressure will continue to intensify and the number of professional firefighters will need to double by 2030 to meet demand.

Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie said rising global temperatures and more frequent and severe droughts were creating a ticking time bomb in Australia.

“The climate is on steroids. Globally, 2015 is likely to surpass 2014 as the hottest year on record and this past September was the hottest ever recorded, the seventh month this year to break such a record,” Ms McKenzie said.

“Australia’s climate change action is not enough to protect Australians from worsening bushfires. We must join the rest of the world in meaningful action to bring climate change under control. The Paris climate conference provides an ideal opportunity for our country to set stronger emissions reduction targets.”

The Climate Council is an independent, crowd-funded organization providing quality information to climate change to the Australian public.

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