Large parts of Australia at elevated risk of spring bushfires

Anticipated warmer and drier conditions for much of Australia this spring has resulted in several regions being described as at greater risk of bushfire.

Regions on alert for increased risk include much of the NT’s pastoral regions south of Elliot, central and northern parts of NSW and populated coastal areas, the SA-Victoria border regions, Victorian coast east of Bairnsdale, and SA’s far west coast.

Seasonal bushfire outlook spring 2023. Areas are based on the interim biogeographic regionalisation for australia and other geographical features.
Seasonal Bushfire Outlook Spring 2023. Areas are based on the interim biogeographic regionalisation for Australia and other geographical features. Credit: AFAC

The report, issued by AFAC (the Australian and New Zealand National Council for fire and emergency services), has changed from previous editions. Rather than including areas of normal or ‘below normal’ fire potential, as was the case previously, only regions of increased fire risk are indicated.

It’s hoped this change will avoid miscommunicating risk to the public and encourage communities to remain vigilant in their fire season preparation. Fire authorities are regularly at pains to emphasise an area not at increased seasonal risk of bushfire is still subject to the underlying threat of bushfire ever-present in the community.

Many of the areas at increased springtime risk of fire are grasslands, which have undergone rapid regrowth following both the Black Summer fires of 2019/20 and repeat La Nina seasons since.

This is why slithers of the east coast appear at greater fire risk in spring than some in-land regions.

“It comes down to the types of fuels that you have that are driving the fires,” says AFAC Chief Executive Officer, Rob Webb.

“Grasslands will bounce back very quickly to high fuel loads… but the deeper forest fuels, the canopies of those forests, and the surface litter takes years to go back to high levels. So that’s why you start to see a more normal pattern through those areas affected by the 19/20 fires.

“It might take 4 or 5 years for that leaf litter to accumulate again to [those] levels.”

Webb also emphasises localised knowledge and action to reduce fuel by local authorities will also have an impact on mitigating springtime risk.

With a high chance of the Bureau of Meteorology declaring a hot and dry El Nino season later this year, combined with the likelihood of similar effects from a positive Indian Ocean Dipole, conditions seem prime for a summer of high fire risk. The emergence of these climate events in the coming months is likely to define Australia’s summertime bushfire profile.

Those conditions– regardless of El Nino, or not – Locks assume for the next little while.

“The traditional peak of the fire season in Australia isn’t till after the Christmas period into the first two, three months of the year… what the El Nino does do, if it does come off as they suggest, is that it gives you a bit more confidence that those dry conditions might last into the summer months,” Webb says.

“People should know if you’re living in a bushfire area: just have a plan, sit down with the family, because it might save your life.”

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