If we want to minimise fire risk we must prevent out-of-control climate change.
If we want to minimise fire risk we must prevent out-of-control climate change.

Opinion: ‘Frightening’ bushfire patterns emerging

THIS week the ABC published a frightening photo of two children standing in shallow water at a beach in southern NSW with a raging bushfire on the land behind them. That's one of the many unprecedented events that has occurred over the past couple of months as wildfires have hit eastern Australia.

Two days ago, at Port Macquarie on the NSW coast, a forest that was critical habitat for koalas burned. One estimate is that about 350 koalas were killed in the fire. Untold numbers of other native animals also died.

Last weekend in Kuttabul, Mackay Conservation Group sponsored a community bushfire forum so residents could find out more about the future likelihood of fires and how to prepare.

The Australia Institute's principal adviser, Mark Ogge, told the forum data from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology showed our region will become hotter in future. We are on track to have less rainfall, more hot days and, most importantly for bushfire risk, many more hot nights.

Andrew Houley, from the Rural Fire Service, said firefighters use the night time, when temperature and wind speed falls, to get on top of bushfires.

The BOM data shows that our region currently has about 15 nights a year with a minimum temperature above 25C. In the worst case scenario we may suffer through nearly 50 hot nights in 2030 and up to about 160 by 2090. That will make it much harder for Rural Fire Service volunteers to do their job.

This year bushfires came early to southern Queensland, engulfing farmland, eucalypt forest and even rainforests that have never burned. Record temperatures in Antarctica have contributed to weather patterns that caused hotter and drier conditions in eastern Australia.

In northern NSW, towns already on severe water restrictions were confronted by fires earlier this month. Those communities had little water available for daily activities like showering and washing clothes, so defending the family home from fire became almost impossible.

Rural residents in our region will have to become better prepared for future bushfires. The Kuttabul forum was told that firebreaks are being built in critical areas to enable fuel reduction burns in cool weather. Many landholders are also taking action to make fire fighting easier.

If we want to minimise fire risk we must prevent out of control climate change. That means burning less coal, gas and oil.

- Peter McCallum, Mackay Conservation Group