Australia braces for difficult bushfire season, bolstered by lessons from Black Summer

Bushfire warnings across Australia are sparking debate about whether Australia is more prepared following the devastation of Black Summer. Source: Getty Images.

With spring temperatures soaring to new heights in some parts of Australia, predictions of a difficult bushfire season are afoot.

However, lessons learned from the devastating Black Summer bushfire which destroyed vast tracts of the country in 2019/2020 will ensure the country is better prepared.

More recently, cooler temperatures brought extraordinarily high rainfall across the country with Queensland and New South Wales experiencing devastating floods in 2022. The outcome for Australia being a reprieve from bushfires since early 2020.

However, according to AFAC, the national council for fire and emergency services, the country’s climate influences have shifted since last spring with the Bureau of Meteorology predicting higher average temperatures and below-average rainfall for almost the entire country.

Alongside these predictions, the question being asked is whether or not the country is prepared for a renewed bushfire risk?

After the Black Summer bushfires, a royal commission handed down a 600-page report detailing 80 recommendations to better mitigate bushfires in the future. 

Key recommendations included introducing an all-hazard emergency warning app, increased resources for aerial firefighting, better collaboration across all spheres of government, bush fire smoke reports, access to emergency supplies, and local extreme weather predictions.

At the time, then Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the government would “carefully and methodically” consider the 1,000-page report and its recommendations.

This is how some of these recommendations are stacking up:

New air quality forecasting system to be tested this summer

During the Black Summer bushfires, 429 people died from bushfire smoke alone with recommendations made to provide real-time air quality reports and implement a national forecasting system to warn those in affected areas.

CSIRO research scientist Martin Cope said he and his team have developed a new forecasting system that allows them access to real-time air quality information provided by state environment agencies and use it to provide next-day quality forecasting.

“We have a national forecasting system that, for the whole of Australia, is providing forward forecasts out to three days at about nine kilometres resolution,” Cope told the ABC.

Cope added that the system will be tested this summer and they were also looking at developing a system that provides air quality forecasts on the hour which is crucial for when fires are spreading.

Access to emergency supplies

Recommendations were made to ensure people had access to essential supplies during an emergency. To this end, plans are underway to establish a National Emergency Management Stockpile ready for deployment within 24 hours.

In the stockpile are emergency shelters, water desalination and purification systems, power generators and single-use food supplies.

This stockpile is due to be ready by June next year and in the meantime, the National Coordination Mechanism, utilised during COVID-19 to keep supermarket shelves stocked, will be utilised to preserve supply chains.

Future and local extreme weather predictions

Better local weather projections are needed in the event of fires where the slightest weather change can have big consequences.

Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales, told the ABC, “Bushfires happened very locally. We cannot get that information from global climate models — absolutely impossible.”

The royal commission report recommended “downscaled climate models” that provide predictions for local areas. The previous government supported this recommendation in principle however this year the Albanese government pulled the trigger asking the newly formed Australian Climate Service to produce these new models in the next two to three years.

Perkins-Kirkpatrick was excited about the new development saying, “It’s actually really exciting and really encouraging.”

Of the 80 recommendations, the commonwealth government has claimed responsibility for 15. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has stated that of those 15 recommendations, 12 are now complete with three to be completed soon.

Speaking to ABC News, Greg Mullins, former fire chief and now advocate for stronger climate action, says the government needs to take responsibility for much more.




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