- The bushfire season is expected to hit earlier than normal, this year.
- Individuals in high risk areas need to stay vigilante and plan in advance for bushfires.
- Regular property maintenance goes a long way.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) last issued its El Niño alert on 15 August this year, with the next update coming up tomorrow. The weather pattern is typically associated with an increased risk of drier weather and higher temperatures in eastern Australia.
An early bushfire season has also been widely reported, with the Australasian Fire Authorities Council (AFAC) recently delivering its seasonal bushfire outlook for spring 2023.
The announcement had a simple message: prepare now.
AFAC noted that above-average levels of rainfall have increased fuel growth, contributing to the increased risk of bushfires for many parts of Australia this spring. Areas noted to be at particular risk included large areas of the Northern Territory, Queensland, and New South Wales. Parts of Victoria and South Australia are also at risk.
“The climate influences driving increased risk of bushfire this season are widespread. Almost the entire country can expect drier and warmer conditions than normal this spring, so it is important for Australians to be alert to local risks of bushfire over the coming months, regardless of their location,” said AFAC CEO, Rob Webb.
“Fire is a regular part of the Australian landscape in spring. Wherever you live, work or travel, now is the time to plan and prepare. Understand your risk, know where you will get your information, and talk to your family about what you will do.”
Drier weather on the horizon
While the BOM has not officially declared an El Niño, other agencies across the globe, like the World Meteorological Organisation and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have declared El Niño’s approach.
In their latest update on 15 August, BOM explained their rationale for the El Niño alert.
BOM senior climatologist, Catherine Ganter, said the atmospheric changes commonly observed during El Niño have yet to occur.
“Atmospheric indicators of El Niño include wind, cloud and broad-scale pressure patterns across the Pacific Ocean,” Ganter said.
“While the past fortnight has seen a decrease in Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) values to El Niño-like values, this strong swing has been due to more localised higher than average pressure in Darwin, rather than a broader El Niño signal.”
“Overall, the atmospheric indicators suggest the Pacific Ocean and atmosphere are not yet consistently reinforcing each other as occurs during El Niño events.”
UPDATE: The BOM has declared an El Niño event on 19 September 2023.
Five tips to protect your property
University of New South Wales (UNSW) fire expert, Professor Guan Heng Yeoh, gave The Property Tribune five key tips for protecting homes from bushfires.
- Clean the gutters: This is important as dry leaves and twigs are potential fire hazards. During an ember attack, these organic materials can be ignited, and the fire can spread beneath the roof into the house.
- Access to water supply: A rainwater tank could be very useful as it can be used to flood the gutters and cool the walls of the house during a bushfire. Any embers that may roll off the roof into the gutter will be snuffed out.
- Clear any flammable materials and bushland around the house: Putting away plastic containers and wooden furniture can assist in not adding to the fire hazard, as these materials can burn during a bushfire situation. Also, clearing bushland can create a buffer zone as a defence perimeter for the house.
- Be evacuation-ready: Have a plan to evacuate when alerted by the RFS or other local authority. This is typically broadcast via TV, radio, websites, social media, and special apps such as Fires Near Me.
- Fireproof your house: Apply fire retardant paints which can prevent your house from being badly damaged or even destroyed in a bushfire.
Be prepared says the Queensland Rural Fire Service
Queensland Rural Fire Service’s James Haig called on homeowners living in bushfire risk areas to plan ahead.
Among Haig’s recommendations:
- Visit the Queensland Fire Emergency Services website (or your relevant state),
- Clear your yard from flammable materials, and
- Ensure clear and unencumbered access to and from your property.
Haig said the website has comprehensive information on how to prepare one’s home for the bushfire season, and how to create a survival plan, which is a step-by-step blueprint that a person and their family should take to protect themselves in case a bushfire does occur in the area.
“There are many things you can do before the fire starts that can help make sure it’s best prepared. One of the things we do ask is that people clean their gutters,” said Haig.
He explained that leaves are flammable materials that can increase the fire risk on one’s property.
“The second thing that we ask people to do is make sure that their yard is well maintained.
“This means mowing the grass, keeping grass and leaf litter away from the edge of their house, and so on. That creates less chance of having a fire right up close to their property.”
James Haig, Queensland Rural Fire Service
Keeping access to your property clear is also important, said Haig. This means homeowners can leave their property quickly in the event of a bushfire, and allow firefighters to get to the fire without any restrictions.
“These are all about risk reduction. Well-prepared homes have the maximum chance of surviving through a bushfire.
“While it’s not a guarantee, these are proven, prudent actions to take to protect your property,” Haig added.
What else should be in my bushfire plan?
In addition to the above recommendations, the chair of The Bushfire Front, John Clarke, told The Property Tribune that having an independent pump and hose unit readily available can help.
The Bushfire Front is a coalition of bushfire experts from Western Australia.
“I would have at hand a small water tank, petrol-powered pump, and hose setup on a trailer that can be quickly and easily towed by a vehicle. Make sure you and all the family know how to use it, and that it’s maintained and ready to use at short notice.”
His most important point was to keep forest fuels low.
“The biggest and most damaging bushfires are those that start in the forested areas of the southwest [WA] and descend with ferocity upon landowners and small towns during the hottest and windiest of conditions. The forested areas could be National Park, local government reserves, or privately owned bush.”
John Clarke, The Bushfire Front
“It is vital that the owners/managers of these forested areas conduct regular fuel reduction controlled burning during the cooler months of the year, with appropriate track and access maintenance that is an essential component of planned burning.
“And if your own property is up to scratch, but the neighbouring bush is not, you need to agitate loudly to the owners/managers of that ‘dirty’ bush to do what they must do. If this involves hassling government agencies – state or local – then that is what must be done. Your property and life could depend on it,” Clarke added.
Clarke also noted that if a fire is heading towards your property, don’t wait until the last minute then make decisions in a state of panic.
“If you are going to defend your property, make sure you are well prepared and know what you are doing. If you want to leave your property, don’t decide to do that at the last minute and then drive off into thick smoke and flames and risk getting burnt to death in your vehicle or stuck in a traffic jam. Instead, make any decision to leave well before the fire is bearing down upon your house and your exit route.”