Australia Has an “Ignition” Problem

Australia Has an “Ignition” Problem

Bushfires that have claimed at least 30 homes in southern Australia thus far, but the worst may be yet to come as a dry spring has primed the country for a long and costly fire season, says James Gould, Principal Research Scientist at the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre within the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

“The conditions have built up over a very dry spring,” Gould says. “Essentially, we have an ignition problem.”

Dozen of homes are already destroyed in the hills behind the city of Adelaide that began last week. Reports say that more than 500 firefighters are tackling the the flames. The current disaster is considered the worst in the area since the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983, which left 75 dead and caused at least $400 million in insured losses.

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) declared a catastrophe for the current bushfire affected regions. The declaration means insurers would escalate their response, and claims arising from the bushfires would be given priority by insurers.

Late last year the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre updated its forecast shortly after it was issued in September, saying that the “significant change in this Outlook” meant that additional parts of south eastern Australia were expected to experience above normal fire conditions.

“Rainfall since August has been below average to very much below average across most of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, with South Australia recording its driest October on record,” the update stated. “Record October warmth across much of southern Australia has caused a rapid drawing of moisture from the landscape which is raising expectations of high fire danger in the southeastern states.

Gould, who helped develop bushfire spread model for summer wildfires, said that current modelling was performing up to expectations given the significant variables of wind and rain.

Typically the most active season for Australian bushfires is December through March.

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