Bushfire season in Australia got off to an early start this week as four major fires ravaged western Sydney and the surrounding Blue Mountains area of New South Wales.
Dr. Richard Thornton, chief executive of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, told Guardian Australia that the fires that have raged in NSW this week are “unusually early” but are consistent with a heightened risk of bushfires in the state over the coming months.
In an article in The Conversation about the bushfires, Dr. Thorton wrote that in forested areas a combination of factors, such as Australia’s hottest summer on record and above average temperatures over winter, have elevated the fire risk. In grassy areas, a wet early winter fueled a short burst of grass growth across inland Australia, that has now dried into crisp kindling.
In the Blue Mountains Tuesday’s heat marked the second day the month of 30-plus degree Celsius weather, a record for so early in spring.
More than 1200 firefighters were involved in battling the four major fires. Fourteen helicopters and 350 trucks from the Rural Fire Service, Fire and Rescue NSW and the National Parks and Wildlife Service were involved in the firefight.
Regarding fire safety and preparation Dr. Thompson wrote,
“The bushfires on Sydney’s urban/rural fringe yesterday, before the official, declared fire season in New South Wales, are another demonstration that we do not know everything about being prepared for emergencies. We need to urgently find new and better ways to help people understand what it means to live with threat of bushfire, flood, cyclone and other natural hazards, year round.”
Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott, who won power in national polls on Saturday and is a volunteer firefighter, tweeted his concerns about the bushfires.
In the coming months the new Abbott-led federal government will be promoting a massive expansion in Australia’s coal exports as well as attempting to repeal the carbon price. This would increase carbon emissions and drive the climate change that makes extreme events like these more and more likely.