There is no doubt that climate change is driving more intense fire seasons. The world has warmed as a result of human activity and now all fire events occur in a warmer environment. We have known this for years. Back in 2008 the Garnaut Climate Change Review’s final report, said that predictions “suggest that fire seasons will start earlier, end slightly later, and generally be more intense” and that “this effect increases over time, but should be directly observable by 2020.”
New research by the CFA and Bureau of Meteorology underscores this fact yet again.
The CFA says that ‘the number of high-risk bushfire days could triple in some parts of Victoria by the end of the century’.
The research, published this month in the International Journal of Wildland Fire, found that under different emissions scenarios both mean and extreme fire danger are expected to increase in Victoria.
Statewide, research modelling indicates a 10 to 20 per cent increase in extreme Forest Fire Danger Index, with the greatest change projected in the north-west region.
However, the greatest relative change in the number of ‘Very High’ days per year will be in central and eastern parts of the state where there is a projected doubling and tripling, respectively in the number of ‘Very High’ days. Report co-author, CFA Manager Research and Development Dr Sarah Harris, said scenarios used in the research show increased temperature, caused by human-induced climate change, to be the main driver of heightened fire danger.
“Changes in temperature, humidity and rainfall during spring and early summer mean the fire season will continue to start earlier and run longer. As a flow-on effect, springtime opportunities for prescribed burning could reduce,” she said.
CFA Chief Officer Jason Heffernan said he was proud of CFA’s robust research program, which he said brought further understanding of the impacts of climate change in the context of firefighting.
“As firefighters, we see the effects of these longer and more severe fire seasons and it’s important that we turn our minds towards what firefighting looks like in the not-too-distant future,” he said.
“CFA is undertaking work to identify challenges brought on by climate change and increased fire risk, and ways to solve them through adaptation and mitigation.
“CFA also proudly works to reduce our own greenhouse emissions, through initiatives such as increasing our use of rooftop solar and the number of hybrid vehicles in the fleet.”
CFA Manager Research and Development Sarah Harris and co-authored the research with researchers Scott Clark (School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, Monash University), Timothy Brown (Desert Research Institute in Nevada, USA), Graham Mills (Monash University) and John T. Abatzoglou (School of Engineering, University of California).
The research was funded through Safer Together, a Victorian approach to reducing the risks of bushfire through fire and land agencies such as CFA, Forest Fire Management Victoria and Parks Victoria working together with communities, combining in-depth local knowledge with the latest science and technology to reduce bushfire risk on both public and private land.
Forest Fire Management Victoria Chief Fire Officer Chris Hardman said partnerships with community and agencies such as CFA and FRV help ensure we are unified in emergency preparedness and response to keep the community and environment safe.
“We know that Victoria is one of the most bushfire prone areas in the world. Climate change is increasing the risk bushfires pose to our communities, our critical infrastructure and our environment,” he said.
Implications for the mountains
The north west of the state will be most impacted in terms of fire days. But as this table shows, the North East is the second most impacted region in the state, with obvious implications for mountain environments.
What can we do?
First we need to do whatever we can to reduce our contribution to global warming.
There are also many things we can do to reduce the impacts of climate driven fires on mountain environments. Please check this report An Icon at Risk (available here) about threats to the Victorian Alps, and send a letter to the Victorian Minister fro Environment, Energy and Climate Change, urging her to increase firefighting capacity in the mountains. The letter is here.