After three years of wet conditions, Australia could be in for grassfires on a massive scale, according to a new analysis. This is because the nation has only experienced three prolonged periods of cooler, wetter La Nina conditions since 1950, and when all three ended, big, deadly fires ensued, particularly on the east coast and especially in New South Wales (NSW). Fire fuel loads have jumped from a normal range of 0.5 to 1.5 tonnes per hectare to between 4.5 and 6.0 tonnes now. NSW and Queensland have already seen grassfires this summer, and there is an increased risk of major grassfires breaking out during periods of hot weather in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia up to and possibly including April 2023.
In 1974/75, 15% of Australia’s landmass burned after a triple La Nina, making them the most widespread grassfires in the nation’s history. However, with climate change intensifying extreme weather, firefighters fear that extensive grassfires that break out in hotter, drier, windier weather conditions than those experienced in 1974/75 could be far more destructive and deadly, like those experienced in the United States in December 2021.
Greg Mullins, former NSW Fire and Rescue Commissioner, says emergency services and authorities that manage the land need more funding to respond to escalating disasters, and there must be a shift towards long-term disaster recovery efforts. But he says the only thing that can save Australia from a future of un-fightable fires is reducing emissions urgently.