Concerns grow for dry Gippsland forests as hot summer looms
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- Parts of Gippsland are again at risk of bushfires.
- Summer is expected to be hotter and drier than average.
- Grass fires loom as a serious risk in Victoria.
Forested regions in Gippsland are facing increased bushfire risk this summer, the Country Fire Authority has warned, as it braces for the return of hot and dry conditions after successive seasons of plentiful rain.
The looming threat comes just four years after the Black Summer fires that devastated much of eastern Australia, including large swaths of Gippsland. But three years of wet weather has also primed Victoria for fast-moving grass fires.
The Black Summer fires devastated East Gippsland in 2020.Credit: Getty Images
The CFA’s chief fire officer, Jason Heffernan, said Victoria was among the most bushfire-prone areas in the world and conditions would be warmer and drier this fire season amid the potential return of an El Nino weather pattern.
“We also expect a drying pattern to occur across Gippsland, which may lead to an increased fire risk in forested areas,” he said.
Heffernan said high levels of moisture across the state would result in higher grass and crop fuel loads.
The forecast of a hot and dry summer in Australia comes as raging fires devastate communities throughout the northern hemisphere.
Fires have killed at least 111 people in Hawaii this month while blazes in the Canadian city of Yellowknife have triggered the evacuation of 20,000 residents. In Europe, fires have torn through parts of Greece and Spain.
Meanwhile, NASA has declared July the hottest month on record across the globe. Heffernan urged communities to plan for the increased fire risk this summer.
“People who live in high-risk areas should start considering how they can prepare their properties in the coming months.”
Former emergency services commissioner Craig Lapsley said the fires in the northern hemisphere indicated dangerous events were likely to become more commonplace due to climate change.
Fires have devastated the town of Lahaina in Hawaii. Credit: Marco Garcia REUTERS
“The world is now seeing more frequent and intense fires,” he said. “It’s happening in places that don’t normally have fires.”
Lapsley said Australia should be preparing for conditions similar to those experienced by countries in the northern hemisphere.
“It will come to the southern hemisphere,” he said.
Lapsley said grass fires were among the greatest risks this summer, and they could be devastating.
Green growth returning to forests in East Gippsland in late 2021 after the Black Summer fires. Credit: Joe Armao
“Grass fires can be fast moving and intense. That means they’ll move into your backyard faster.”
The Australasian Fire Authorities Council will release its latest bushfire outlook for the coming spring on Wednesday. It is expected to show that parts of Australia will be facing heightened risk of fire.
The council’s chief executive, Rob Webb, said there were large parts of Victoria that did not burn during the Black Summer fires and still had high fuel loads. But he said fires could still be deadly even if they did not reach the catastrophic levels of Black Summer.
“It doesn’t have to be a Black Summer to be a dangerous one,” he said.
While the Bureau of Meteorology has yet to declare an El Nino event, its long-range forecast for September to November shows there is a more than 80 per cent chance of higher-than-usual maximum temperatures.
Rainfall is also likely to be below average over that period. In March, the bureau issued an El Niño watch. El Nino events increase the chance of extreme temperatures during summer, including heatwaves.
Julie Saunders, who lives in Wairewa in East Gippsland, where several houses burned down during Black Summer, said locals were already talking about the coming summer.
“All eyes are on the spring rains now,” she said.
Saunders said grass growth was particularly high on roadsides, but she expected authorities, including local councils, would slash the grass before the hot summer arrives.
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