Fire has a pivotal role in almost all landscapes across Australia, and has had for millions of years. The continent of Australia is a cultural and natural landscape: it has been shaped by First Nations peoples for hundreds of generations. Colonisation disrupted this long management and now settler society is trying to understand how fire should be used in the landscape to manage it for biodiversity, human safety and economic production.
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. This is well documented, and climate change is leading to longer fire seasons, with more frequent dry lightning storms in some areas. We have known this for years. 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.”
There is now so much information available about climate change and fires, and the impacts on natural ecosystems that it is hard to keep up.
This page is intended as a resource page that will include links to these issues – plus First Nation approaches to fire – that are especially relevant to mountain environments in south eastern Australia and lutruwita/Tasmania.
For previous Mountain Journal commentary on these topics, check the bushfire tag and fire tag.
This list was started in late AUG 2020 and will be updated as time allows.
FIRST NATION APPROACHES TO FIRE
FIRES & CLIMATE CHANGE – big picture
Climate change is making fires more extreme. Here’s how. (Link). 2020.
High winds, high temperatures, pervasive drought. These extreme conditions are driving two enormous fires in California, and many more throughout the American West and much of Northern and Western Europe. William Brangham talks with Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University about the ways climate change is contributing to the danger and destruction.
Fast moving California fires boosted by climate change (Link). 2020.
‘The racing flames show how climate change is affecting the nation’s most populous state, experts said. Hotter temperatures, less dependable precipitation and snowpack that melts sooner lead to drier soil and parched vegetation. Climate change also affects how much moisture is in the air’.
Joining the dots on climate change (Link). 2020.
Story on the California fires of 2020 and links to climate change.
Wildfires, extreme weather and climate (Link). 2020.
The recent uptick in the ferocity and frequency of extreme weather events is evidence of an acceleration of climate impacts, some of which were underestimated by climate computer models.
The most ferocious flare-up of catastrophic wildfires in recent memory comes right on the heels of arguably the West Coast’s most intense heat wave in modern history.
It’s not coincidence, it’s climate change.
Stark Evidence: A Warmer World Is Sparking More and Bigger Wildfires (Link). 2017.
The increase in forest fires, seen this summer from North America to the Mediterranean to Siberia, is directly linked to climate change, scientists say. And as the world continues to warm, there will be greater risk for fires on nearly every continent.
FIRES & CLIMATE CHANGE – SE Australia
Bushfire royal commission (Link). 2020.
The bushfire royal commission was explicitly asked to look at mitigation options, but not drivers of global heating. In spite of this, it found that further warming of the Australian climate over the next 20 years “appears to be inevitable,” it said, meaning that catastrophic bushfire conditions will become more common and traditional bushfire protection models and firefighting techniques will be “less effective”.
Victorian Inquiry into the 2019/20 bushfire season. First report, 2020. Available here.
From the executive summary:
‘For those who take a long-term view, the environmental context is evidently changing. The impacts of climate change are evident in the natural and settled landscape. The incidence of large, severe and recurrent bushfire events in Victoria has increased exponentially over recent decades and shows no sign of slowing. The 2009 bushfires aside, this was the third time in less than 20 years that more than 1 million hectares of the state burned over a single summer’.
‘Expect worse’: NSW fire inquiry (Link). 2020.
The NSW Bushfire Inquiry has found that increased hazard-reduction burning will only offer limited help as the climate continues to warm.
“Climate change as a result of increased greenhouse gas emissions clearly played a role in the conditions that led up to the fires and in the unrelenting conditions that supported the fires to spread, but climate change does not explain everything that happened.”
While the report makes several recommendations about increasing fuel-reduction burns, particularly near homes, it also noted “fuel loads were on average no higher than they have been for the past 30 years”.
“The season showed us what damage megafires can do and how dangerous they can be for communities and firefighters,” the report found. “And it is clear that we should expect fire seasons like 2019-20, or potentially worse, to happen again.
Climate change and extreme weather (Link) 2020.
This is from the Victorian Auditor-Generals Office (VAGO) report on ‘Reducing Bushfire Risks’.
In 2018, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) published research that links earlier starts to the bushfire season with climate change and weather patterns, such as El Niño. This research, which draws on 40 years of data, shows that weather conditions in spring and summer are becoming more dangerous across southern Australia.
The timing and severity of the 2019–20 bushfire season supported this finding. In December 2019, BoM issued its Special Climate Statement Report 72—dangerous bushfire weather in spring 2019. The report noted that across Australia, spring 2019 had the highest fire danger weather on record, with record high values observed in all states and territories.
Sub alpine forests struggle to recover after 2019/20 fires. (Link). 2021. This story focuses on research work carried out by the Bushfire Recovery Project in the Snowy Mountains.
Dead forests leading to more intense fires. The Alps have been burnt several times in the last 20 years. This has led to a massive volume of dead trunks in the snow gum forests, either standing or on the ground. What are the implications of these new forests for fire fighting? (Link). 2021.
The increasing frequency of ‘mega fires’ in Victoria. Mega fires are those over 100,000 ha in size. (Link)
Fires and Snow Gums. To keep these forests, we need less fire. How do we exclude fire from these forests? (Link). 2020.
FIRES & CLIMATE CHANGE – lutruwita/ Tasmania
Research shows the fire risk to King Billy Pines. (Link). 2020.
‘Something changed about 2000’. Dry lightning is becoming more common in Tasmania. How should we respond? (Link). 2021.
Please sign this letter to the prime minister, urging him to support the call for a publicly owned air fleet to fight fires.
Federal government accepts need for ‘sovereign’ air fleet (Link). DEC 2020.
Federal government rejects key recommendation from bushfire Royal Commission (Link). NOV 2020.
We need a national air fleet to protect mountain environments from fire. (Link). NOV 2020.
Increased air capacity needed to fight the fires of the future. (Link). AUG 2020.
How do we build our capacity to fight fire? (Link). JULY 2020. Story about the proposal to repurpose the Lockheed Orion planes, which have been used by the Royal Australian Air Force and are soon to be retired.
Shared firefighting in a warmer world (APRIL 2020). Between July 2019 and February 2020, nearly 40,000 flights by firefighting aircraft were taken over southeast Australia. (Link). 2020.
A volunteer remote area firefighting team for Victoria. (Link).
Express your interest in remote area firefighting (Form available here).
How to provide opportunities for urban people to be involved in fire fighting efforts. (Link). 2020. This has details on a proposal for a new volunteer remote area firefighting force in Victoria, which could be geared towards attracting young, urban based people to join.
Tasmania establishes a volunteer remote area fire-fighting team (Link). 2020. An independent review of Tasmania’s management of the 2018/19 bushfires was completed by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC). It made a series of recommendations for the fire services and government, including a proposal to re-establish a volunteer remote area firefighter group, which has now been established.
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