Be Prepared: Climate Change and the SA Bushfire Threat

Residents of South Australia have experienced the serious consequences of bushfires. In 2005 the Black Tuesday bushfires on the Eyre Peninsula resulted in the tragic loss of nine lives and estimated damages of $41 million (2011$). At the beginning of 2014 several bushfires raged across the state, burning tens of thousands of hectares of land, destroying properties and injuring firefighters and residents.

Australians have always lived with fire and its consequences, but climate change is increasing fire danger weather and thus the risk of fires. It is time to think very seriously about the risks that future fires will pose.

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SIX KEY FINDINGS

1. Climate change is already increasing the risk of bushfires in SA.

  • Extreme fire weather has increased over the last 30 years in South Australia.
  • Hotter, drier conditions are increasing the risk of high fire danger weather in South Australia.
  • 2013 was South Australia's hottest year on record and in Adelaide the average intensity of heatwaves has increased by 2.5ºC.

2. In South Australia the fire season is starting earlier and lasting longer. Fire weather has been extending into Spring and Autumn.

  • In 2014, the bushfire season will start early in seven of fifteen districts in South Australia.
  • The fire season will continue to lengthen into the future.

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

  • Record-breaking heat and hotter weather over the long term in South Australia have worsened fire weather and contributed to an increase in the frequency and severity of bushfires.
  • in January 2005, temperatures of over 40ºC contributed to severe bushfires on the Eyre Peninsula.

4. The total economic costs of South Australian bushfires in 2014 are projected to be $43 million. By around the middle of the century these costs will almost triple.

  • Bushfires cause significant economic damage, estimated at $337 million per year (2011$) in Australia. The total economic cost of bushfires is expected to reach $800 million annually by mid-century.
  • In South Australia bushfires are projected to cost $44 million in 2014 (2011$).

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

  • Fire severity and intensity is expected to increase substantially in coming decades, especially in regions most affected by bushfires.
  • As fire risk increases, disaster risk reduction will play a critical role in reducing risks to people and their assets. Increased resources for our emergency services and fire management agencies will be required.

6. This is the critical decade.

  • To reduce the risk of even more extreme events, including bushfires, in the future, Australia must cut greenhouse gas emissions rapidly and deeply to join global efforts to stabilise the world’s climate.

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