9 December 2013 — During the bush fire coverage in October 2013, again and again fire fighters expressed their concerns that fire behaviour had changed and risks have increased. In the aftermath analysis, it was often said there are very few sceptics about the impact of climate change on the end of a fire hose (aside from one notable exception, we might add).
Now the Climate Council has contributed some comprehensive science to the discussion with the report, Be Prepared – Climate Change and the Australian Bushfire Threat, released today.
In terms of the property sector and the construction industry, the key point is that we are getting more frequent and longer hot spells, which is making the likelihood of destruction of property greater.
That has implications across the board for urban planning, electrical infrastructure, transport infrastructure, urban reticulation systems and for the design, materials and systems used in all built assets. It means hospitals need to be better equipped for burns and smoke inhalation victims, and power needs to run underground in vulnerable areas.
The risk of fire is calculated using the Forest Fire Danger Index, which was developed by CSIRO scientist Alan Grant MacArthur in the 1960s. It factors in air temperature, humidity, wind and other variables that influence the likelihood a dropped match, sparking power line or lightning strike can cause a bushfire. On the 7 February 2009, Victoria had FFDI’s ranging from 120 to 190 – the highest on record – and Black Saturday was the result.
Afterwards, a new category was added to the bushfire warnings of “Catastrophic”, which means FFDI values above 100. There have since been several declaration of Catastrophic risk, including during the Blue Mountains fires in October 2013.
Those fires resulted in the loss of 208 properties and insured losses of $183 million. This figure does not include non-insured losses or impacts for local businesses or services, costs incurred by the Rural Fire Service or government rebuilding costs.
What the report shows is a number of ways the warmer global climate influences fire risks, from the straightforward increase of fire likelihood on hot days, through to increased storm activity and lightning strikes. The warmer climate also makes management and prevention more challenging, as the fire season now extends from October to March, giving fewer periods where controlled hazard reduction burns can be carried out.
The report makes clear we are entering uncharted territory, where the current fire fighting resources and strategies will not be sufficient to manage the extreme fire events that are increasingly likely to occur.
You can download the report here.