Australia’s wildfires are set to get worse, according to the emergency services. How are they affected by our increasingly volatile climate?
Australia’s current wildfire season began in September 2019, much earlier than usual. They have killed 23 people and many are missing. Numerous animals have perished and 1,500 homes have also been lost. At one point, Penrith in Sydney registered as one of the hottest places on Earth.
What is causing the fires?
The main cause of these fires, according to meteorologists, is the dipole climate system in the Indian Ocean. This causes hot, dry spells. However, Australia has been under drought conditions for years, enabling fires to burn more intensely.
The warming climate has exacerbated these drought conditions and fostered more extreme weather events, making bushfires a far greater risk than in the past. Some bushfires are getting so powerful they are creating their own thunderstorms and tornadoes, causing gusts which further fan the flames.
A firefighter was even killed when his vehicle was flipped by a gust. According to NSW RFS district manager Superintendent Patrick Westwood, the crew “experienced extreme winds and what could only be described as a fire tornado that lifted the back of the truck”.
It is not only the flames that are causing problems. Smoke and ash are causing respiratory issues while hindering visibility for firefighting and evacuations.
How can the fires be stopped?
Firefighters say that the only way to properly break the cycle of these fires is for the arrival of ‘flooding rain’. They can try to create fire breaks by digging ditches and ‘back burning’ vegetation in an effort to starve the flames.
How is the government responding?
These fires put Australia in a difficult position. It is one of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita with an economy based on fossil fuel production. To top it off, the Australian government recently gave permission to build what could be the world’s biggest coal mine.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has said he will not make what he called ‘reckless’ cuts to coal production. However, he is under increasing pressure from the Australian people to do more.
It is clear that Australia’s climate policy is increasingly at odds with the reality it now faces.
2019 was a year of extreme wildfires. Read about California’s own battle with the flames.