Queensland fires highlight climate crisis

Higher temperatures and drier conditions have created a dangerous month for bushfires


Huxley Wilkinson

Two water-bombing helicopters swoop in to refill at the Peregian Springs Golf Club before flying back to fight the bushfire that threatened the area on September 10.

More than 2000 bushfires raged across Queensland in September after a warmer, drier winter than average, which climate crisis experts have linked to global heating.

The Bureau of Meteorology reported parts of the state received up to 50 per cent less average rainfall between January and August, and in some areas maximum September temperatures were more than 10C above average.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) Superintendent James Haig said while they have monitored these dangerous conditions closely, the dry winter was “extremely unusual”.

“We have been preparing for very dry conditions for some time,” Mr Haig said.

“Those extreme dry conditions plus the wind and the very low humidity we’ve had in the worst of our fires, in turn, means that the fires will spread more quickly.

“That doesn’t make them so much unpredictable as erratic in their behaviour and they can be very hard to control.”

Climate change researcher Dr Kate English said the “best available science” connected these unusual conditions with the global climate crisis, as well other extreme weather events such as the Amazon fires.

“Whether those fires were set by arson, which some of the larger ones appear to be, they still have taken off,” Dr English said.

“They’re stronger, they’re hotter, they move faster.

“We do have to talk about the impacts of climate change because they are becoming more prevalent and extreme events are increasing.”

Mr Haig said the warm, dry conditions were expected to continue not only this season, but in the years to come.

“From the forecasts we’ve received from CSIRO and others we do expect more bad fire weather days,” Mr Haig said.

“I wouldn’t like to guess why the climate is getting hotter and drier, however clearly it’s something we have to plan for regardless.

“We also have a climate change adaptations policy within QFES which is about making sure, as things change, if they change, we are ready for it.”

Mr Haig said QFES has many adaptation tactics already in use, such as relocating water tankers, increased water aircraft training, and controlled backburning.

When asked about such techniques, Dr English said those measures did little to address the cause of extreme weather events.

“Temperatures are continuing to rise, concentrations of greenhouse gases globally are continuing to rise,” Dr English said.

“It is global international policy that we have to look at.

“Continual further delay will just mean exacerbated impacts.”