This fire season, areas of Australia have burnt that used to be too wet to burn
Australia is a land of natural climate extremes. Always has been. And we had one of our periodic extremes recently. A combination of severe drought and unusually high temperatures amplified our usual summer bushfires.
A historical perspective is missing in most commentary on it. Claims that the 2019/20 fires were unprecedented simply show how short memories are. The area burnt, for instance, was much greater in 1974/75. And who remembers that in the Sydney of 1790 (Yes. 1790, not 1970) bats and birds were falling out of the trees from heat exhaustion?
But weather is highly variable from place to place and time to time so some areas were drier than usual. Some areas had dried out that usually remained damp -- resulting in the events described below
I have deleted below all the claims that the fires were influenced by global warming. The floods that have immediately followed the fires and put them out are also a great extreme. Were they caused by global warming too? Even Warmists have seen the incongruity of claiming that global warming could cause both drought and floods in quick succession so have generally gone silent about climate change. But if climate change did not cause the floods, how can we know that it caused the drought? We cannot.
There is absolutely no way we can prove that climate change had any influence on the fires. Claims that climate change did have an influence are mere assertion, mere opinion, mere propaganda. There are well-established methods in science for establishing causes. None of them were applicable to the recent extreme events. So there is no reason to believe that the recent events were anything more than normal variations
Binna Burra Lodge in the Gold Coast hinterland was 81-year-old Tony Groom’s life. His father founded the mountain hiking retreat in the 1930s, Tony ran it in the 60s and 70s, and his daughter, Lisa, 52, grew up there.
The lodge’s wooden cabins, bordered by rainforest on one side and eucalypts on the other, were a touchstone for people’s lives: for weddings, wakes and walks around the ancient world heritage forests of Lamington national park.
Next door, Tony and his late wife, Connie, lived for almost 40 years in Alcheringa, a stone-walled house with a deck where Lisa and her brother would dangle their feet out over the Coomera Valley
On the morning of 8 September 2019 the lodge, the heritage-listed cabins and the Grooms’ family homestead were razed to the ground by a bushfire. About 450 hectares of rainforest burned around Binna Burra that day – the kind of lush forest that doesn’t usually burn.
Firefighters use the forest fire danger index to tell them how bad conditions are. The index combines the key ingredients that influence a bushfire – temperature, wind speed, humidity and the dryness of the “fuel”, including grasses and fallen wood from trees.
The trends show not only that conditions are becoming more dangerous, but that the fire season is starting earlier.
The number of severe bushfire danger days has increased in spring for large parts of Australia
Australia’s spring months are September, October and November. The spring of 2019 was the worst year on record for high-risk bushfire weather in south-east Queensland, and for the entire country.
The conditions that helped a fire take hold at Sarabah, north-west of Binna Burra, had been building since the beginning of the year.
Rainfall was well below average, the ground was unusually dry and, in the days before the fire struck, daytime maximum temperatures were at near-record levels after months of hotter-than-average weather.
Then came the winds.
Australia’s devastating fire season of 2019 and 2020 has so far burned through more than 7.7 million hectares in the south-eastern states, claiming 33 lives and almost 3,000 homes. Firefighters have never experienced anything like it.
Neither has Australia. 2019 was the hottest and driest year on record.
The kind of conditions that have delivered devastating and deadly major bushfires in the recent past are going to increase, according to Dr Richard Thornton, the chief executive of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre.
“People tend to base their risk perception on what they’ve experienced before – a bushfire every 50 or 100 years,” Thornton says. “Their risk perception is based on history. But history is not a good predictor of the future.
As for the home at Alcheringa, and Binna Burra Lodge, there are plans to rebuild in a way that will minimise damage from future fires. But they know the future will be different.