NSW bushfire risk worsening due to climate change

New South Wales is facing increasingly dangerous bushfire seasons, commencing earlier and lasting longer as a result of intensifying climate change, according to a new Climate Council report.

The ‘ Earlier, More Frequent, More Dangerous: Bushfires in New South Wales’, report shows climate change exacerbated the record breaking heat in winter and early spring, sparking dangerous fire conditions across the state and much of Australia.

“These severe conditions led the Rural Fire Service to declare an early start to the bushfire danger season across a number of regions in New South Wales,” said Climate Councillor and ecologist, Professor Lesley Hughes.

“New South Wales has already experienced many bushfires this season. The bushfire threat has also been exacerbated thanks to unprecedented temperatures in September, with parts of the state reaching more than 40 degrees for the first time on record,” she said.

Professor Hughes said New South Wales will continue to experience an increasing number of days with dangerous fire weather, placing fire services and medical professionals under increasing pressure.

“Communities, emergency services and the health sector needs to be prepared and resourced for worsening fire danger conditions now and into the future.”

“This spring and summer bushfire conditions are ‘above normal’ so preparation will be critical.”

Key findings include:

  • Hot, dry conditions have a major influence on bushfires. The 2017 winter in New South Wales was one of the warmest on record and extremely dry, and was then followed by unprecedented September heat, including some regions reaching 40°C or more for the first time on record.

  • Bushfire costs in New South Wales are likely to more than double by mid-century to over $100 million per year. These estimates are conservative, because they do not factor in climate change.

  • ‘Above normal’ fire potential is expected for much of the eastern New South Wales in the 2017-18 bush fire season, on the back of warm, dry June-September weather.

  • Bushfires have a major negative impact on public health, the economy and the environment in New South Wales.

Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie warned the escalating fire risk in New South Wales also posed a significant threat to human health.

“Bushfire smoke can seriously affect human health, from respiratory irritants, through to inflammatory and cancer-causing chemicals. Young children, the elderly and those with chronic lung and heart diseases are at greatest risk.” she said.

The report is available here.

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