BOM, brigades issue warning
Bushfire risk rises as good winter rains feed summer fuel load
These aerial images show Albany’s great greening, but the lush vegetation from a wet winter and a moist start to spring mean massive fuel loads in the southern regions of the State for the summer bushfire season to come.
That’s the warning from bushfire brigades and the weather bureau, prompting a plea from the Department of Fire and Emergency Services for homeowners to prepare their properties now.
Satellite images show the Perth Hills, including Roleystone and Parkerville, are lush and verdant when compared with images taken in March, at the end of summer.
On the south coast, the most recent aerial images of Albany show a stark contrast to summer.
The greatest difference is evident in the South West, where satellite shots show Busselton, Waroona and Yarloop are now carpeted in green and almost unrecognisable compared with the barren browns of last summer.
Bureau of Meteorology spokesman Neil Bennett described WA’s fuel loads as “heavy”, thanks to winter rainfall in many areas that eclipsed previous years, prompting a flush of vegetation.
While a wet start to spring meant fuel loads were not tinder dry, he said that could change within days when skies cleared and temperatures rose.
“The moment you get a week of dry conditions, the fuel load dries out really quick,” he said.
“It might be very green at the moment, but it certainly doesn’t take too long to dry out.”
In the South West, the Wallcliffe Volunteer Bushfire Brigade warned residents that fuel loads had returned to levels seen before the devastating 2011 Margaret River bushfires.
Opposition emergency services spokesman Steve Thomas, who is based in Margaret River, said the heavy fuel load meant there was “almost no area” of his shire that was not a high fire risk.
“As the years pass since 2011 and memories fade, it is too easy to become complacent,” he said.
The latest seasonal outlook from the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Community Research Centre warned of “above-normal fire potential” this summer along the bushfire-prone Darling Scarp, as well as the South West, south coast and Esperance plain.
DFES also warned that Eucla faced above-average bushfire potential, thanks to pasture growth and existing mature fuels, while the Pilbara and Gascoyne had “higher-than-average grass fuel loads”.
Around the nation, the direst warnings have been issued for drought-plagued NSW, where the research centre said millions of people were potentially at risk.
It comes as the weather bureau released a climate modelling map this week that showed virtually all of Australia had an 80 per cent chance of above-average temperatures this summer.
That prediction is thanks to two major climate drivers — a “developing El Nino situation in the Pacific Ocean, and its equivalent in the Indian Ocean, the positive Indian Ocean Dipole” — which come with “increased risk of heatwaves and bushfires”, a weather bureau spokesman said.
Despite the rising temperatures, the WA Government and Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions said the threat of catastrophic blazes like those that have hit Yarloop and the Perth Hills in previous years had been reduced through controlled burning.
For the second year in a row, the department met its key target of burning 200,000ha across the broader south-west of the State.
DFES Commissioner Darren Klemm said 90 per cent of the State had been declared bushfire prone and there was “no predicting” when and where one might strike.
“It’s extremely important that the community takes action to prepare now to reduce the impact of these events,” he said.
A wet start to spring means fuel loads are not tinder dry, but that could change within days when skies clear and temperatures rise.
Aerial view of Albany, August 2018.
Aerial view of Albany, March 2018