A disturbing photo of an out-of-control grass fire burning in Victoria has raised fears that Australia could experience its worst bushfire season next summer.
The country has spent the last three years suffering unprecedented heavy rains and flooding due to La Niña, claiming lives and destroying countless homes.
But experts have warned that a new threat looms on the horizon once the rain and clouds clear.
Prolonged rains help grass and vegetation to grow, but once the weather changes, they dry up and become the perfect fuel for fires as conditions become drier and hotter.
Former NSW Fire and Rescue Commissioner Greg Mullins has warned that the fires are likely to rage across NSW, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia early this year and into next summer.
A fire is seen near Flowerdale in Victoria on Tuesday night. Experts warn that recent La Niña will increase the risk of fires in Australia
He explained that while grass fires were less severe than wildfires, firefighters knew that ‘grass fires follow floods’ and their unpredictability made them extremely dangerous.
Not only do they move at incredible speeds, but fires can ignite just hours after rain, and they can also change direction, tragically leaving those in their path with nowhere to go.
“Many people have died from being trapped outdoors or in cars by fast-moving grass fires,” Mullins wrote in an article for the Sydney Morning Herald.
He said Australia’s parched landscape was turning into a “powder keg” with millions of acres “ready to burn”.
“All it takes is a lightning strike, a carelessly thrown cigarette or a harvest accident to cause disaster,” he said.
Former NSW Fire and Rescue Commissioner Greg Mullins has warned that the fires are likely to wreak havoc in NSW, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia this year (Pictured shows a fire in Chinchilla, Queensland earlier this month)
History has shown that heavy rains have often sparked fires, and large fires were observed after La Niña events in the 1950s, 1970s, and early 2000s.
In 1957, 1977 and during 2001/2002, Sydney and the Blue Mountains were ravaged by fires, while after a double La Niña in 1969 in Victoria, more than 200 houses were destroyed.
In the same year, in Lara, north-east of Geelong, 17 people were killed when a grass fire suddenly changed direction.
They were on the Melbourne-Geelong Highway at the time and had left their cars trying to escape the fire before dying.
After another long La Niña in 1974 and 1975, fires razed 117 million hectares of land across the country.
Mullins believes that with climate change, “driven by the burning of coal, oil and gas”, the risk of fire has only increased in the years since.
“Firefighters fear that if large grass fires break out in weather conditions that are hotter, drier and windier than those experienced in the 1970s, they could be far more destructive and deadly than anything we’ve seen before,” he said.
Experts have called on governments to increase preparedness for the big fires this summer (a bushfire in Perth in February 2021 pictured)
“Many people have barely recovered, some are still recovering, but it’s scary to think that another disaster could be just around the corner.”
Several communities are still recovering from the 2019/2020 Black Summer wildfires that claimed 26 lives.
The effects of the increased risk of grass fires are being felt in Flowerdale, northeast of Melbourne.
A 700-hectare fire has been burning out of control since just after 10 p.m. Tuesday.
As of 8 a.m. Wednesday, no lives or homes have been lost, and up to 350 firefighters are working to battle the blaze.
The state’s emergency alert system, Vic Emergency, warned residents who remained in the region that it was too dangerous to leave.
That warning has since been downgraded to a Vigilance and Action alert, but authorities don’t expect the fire to be contained until Thursday.
Mullins is also the founder of Emergency Leaders for Climate Action and has warned that the fires are likely to rage during the summer of 2023 and 2024.
“The summer of 2023-2024 is almost certain to see a return to normal or above bushfire conditions across most of Australia, with previous long wet spells followed by large fires in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales and even in the suburbs of Sydney,” he said. in a sentence.
“All levels of government must understand the increasing risk of devastating fires and increase preparedness now.”
He is asking governments to increase funding for emergency services and recovery projects.
“Firefighters fear that grass fires occurring in hot, dry and windy conditions made worse by climate change could develop on a scale never before experienced, potentially overwhelming emergency services at times and putting communities in great risk,” Mullins said.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE CAUGHT IN A LAWN FIRE
Move quickly inside:
- Bring your pets inside.
- Close all exterior doors, windows, and vents.
- Turn off cooling systems.
- You must take shelter before the fire arrives. The extreme heat is likely to hurt you long before the flames reach you.
- Take refuge in a room that has two exits, such as a door or window, including one that leads directly to the outside. It is important to be able to see outside to know what is happening with the fire.
- If your house catches fire and the conditions inside become unbearable, you should get out and go to an area that has already burned.
If you can’t get in, options of last resort include:
- Shelter in the middle of a large open space such as a plowed paddock, soccer oval, or sports reserve.
- Dive into a large body of water such as a dam, lake, river, ocean, or in-ground pool.
- Try to protect yourself from the heat of the fire.
In the car:
- If you are traveling, do not enter the warning area. Make a U-turn and travel to safety.
- If you are currently driving, slow down and turn on your headlights; the smoke will make it hard to see.
If it catches fire:
- Park behind a solid structure to block the heat of the fire, or pull over in a clear area.
- Try to position the car towards the oncoming fire.
- Turn on your hazard lights and headlights.
- Close all windows.
- Turn off the air conditioning and close all air vents.
- Turn off your car’s engine.
- Get as low as possible below window level and cover yourself with a fleece blanket.
Fountain: emergency vic