Weekend Herald

Sum­mer fire sea­son is un­der way

- Climate Change · Fires · Disasters · Ecology · Drought · Natural Disasters · South Island · Otago Region · Otago · University of Auckland · University of Otago · Australia · California · United States of America · European Union · New Zealand · Boris Johnson · United Kingdom · Joe Biden · Twizel · 38 Studios

The Lake hau bush­fire is a wake- up call for those who think the coun­try’s ex­po­sure to environmen­tal dis­as­ters is lim­ited.

Flames from an in­tense fire swept through foothills and into the small South Is­land vil­lage, forc­ing 90 peo­ple to evac­u­ate. It is thought to be the largest bush­fire in the coun­try for more than 60 years.

About 50 homes and 4600ha were de­stroyed, although thank­fully no one was killed. Lo­cal of­fi­cials have blamed land man­age­ment prac­tices.

North Otago Fed­er­ated Farm­ers high coun­try chair­man Si­mon Wil­liamson, a farm owner be­tween

marama and Twizel, said the fire was fu­elled by re­tired land — a “huge risk” that had not been ad­dressed.

“All this ground that’s been locked up and hasn’t been grazed is be­com­ing a haz­ard to life. The fuel load­ing in the land is just huge.

“Peo­ple are say­ing they want to lock ev­ery­thing up and cre­ate a safe habi­tat, but you’re not lock­ing it up when it’s not be­ing grazed or man­aged . . . you get one spark and it spreads and burns ev­ery­thing in sight.”

Cli­mate scientist Dr Jim Salinger said the fire re­flected warn­ings that the cli­mate cri­sis would cause “more se­vere” fire dan­ger. He said Otago’s fire sea­son was start­ing ear­lier.

“These are not spring tem­per­a­tures, these are sum­mer tem­per­a­tures.”

Sci­en­tists have said for years that peo­ple should ex­pect longer and hot­ter sum­mers be­cause of the warm­ing cli­mate, mak­ing bush­fires more likely.

Univer­sity of Auck­land environmen­tal sci­ence ex­pert Pro­fes­sor Ge­orge Perry said there had been more large bush­fires than usual in re­cent years. “We would ex­pect more such events un­der cli­mate change, es­pe­cially as con­di­tions be­come warmer and drier, and we see more droughts.”

Univer­sity of Otago Cen­tre for Sus­tain­abil­ity deputy direc­tor Caro­line Orchis­ton said fire had to be con­sid­ered in safety plan­ning.

The pic­tures of charred and ru­ined houses were more akin to the scenes we are used to see­ing from in­tense and tragic fires in Aus­tralia and Cal­i­for­nia.

Just this week, stun­ning data emerged from the United States about Cal­i­for­nia’s record- break­ing blazes.

More than 1.6 mil­lion ha have been burned to date, with one fire alone scorch­ing 404,600ha. Five of the 10 big­gest bush­fires in the state’s his­tory have oc­curred since Au­gust.

Aus­tralia will be dread­ing an­other fire sea­son af­ter the apoc­a­lyp­tic scenes from the start of this year.

Septem­ber was the warm­est month on record glob­ally, ac­cord­ing to the weather ser­vice Coper­ni­cus, the Euro­pean Union’s Earth ob­ser­va­tion pro­gramme. It was 0.05C hot­ter than Septem­ber last year, which was the pre­vi­ous record high for the month.

With its fairly even cli­mate, New Zealand has gen­er­ally been con­sid­ered less threat­ened by ex­treme heat.

Per­haps the smaller per­ceived

We would ex­pect more such events un­der cli­mate change, es­pe­cially as con­di­tions be­come warmer and drier, and we see more droughts.

threat here has made our politi­cians less in­clined to en­twine eco­nomic and environmen­tal poli­cies com­pared to coun­tries overseas.

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son this week out­lined a “green in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion” in­clud­ing plans to power ev­ery home in the UK with off­shore wind en­ergy within a decade.

Like other lead­ers, in­clud­ing US Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial chal­lenger Joe Bi­den, John­son is pledg­ing to use the coro­n­avirus pan­demic as a driver for “green”- based jobs and eco­nomic growth.

Spe­cific plans — such as more wind tur­bines, so­lar projects, spe­cific trans­port changes, or more charg­ers to en­cour­age elec­tric ve­hi­cle take- up — carry more im­pact than pol­icy goals that sound like they might never ar­rive.

At a time of pub­lic im­pa­tience — es­pe­cially among younger peo­ple — with the slow­ness of progress on cli­mate is­sues, tight tar­gets that can be part of an eco­nomic re­cov­ery and can be eas­ily ex­plained make po­lit­i­cal sense.

Fires, droughts, water sup­plies, power, en­ergy- ef­fi­cient hous­ing and trans­porta­tion will be im­por­tant ar­eas of fo­cus for this coun­try from now on.

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