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(Australian Associated Press)
Winter bushfires in NSW and Queensland have set the scene for what is expected to be a challenging and prolonged fire season across Australia.
Fire agencies are bracing for an active 2019/20 fire season, following an unusually warm and dry year so far in large parts of the country..
The latest outlook says the east coasts of Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania, as well as parts of southern Western Australia and South Australia, face above-normal fire potential.
“This year we’re seeing a potentially very active year again across the country,” Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre CEO Richard Thornton said on Wednesday.
Dr Thornton said the conditions, particularly in Australia’s east, were being driven by an increased average temperature as well as a decline in rainfall.
An early start to the fire season has been declared in many areas across eastern Australia, as crews battled bushfires in NSW and Queensland this month.
The Bureau of Meteorology’s David Jones said the climate outlook was not very good, noting Australia was experiencing one of its most severe droughts.
“It will be a challenging fire season for the weather and we anticipate an early start and unfortunately a long season based on the climatic conditions we have in place at the moment,” Dr Jones told reporters in Melbourne.
The bushfire season has again started early in Queensland, which experienced unprecedented catastrophic conditions last year when 2600 fires burnt more than four million hectares of land.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Service deputy commissioner Mark Roche said the season was also expected to finish later than usual.
“We’re expecting some significant fires and fire activity probably from Rockhampton down to the NSW border,” he said.
“Our expectation is that we will have a heavy season.”
NSW Rural Fire Service senior assistant commissioner Bruce McDonald said there were about 1500 large running fires in the state this month, some of which required late-night emergency alerts to local residents.
He equated the current conditions to those in 2013 when more than 200 homes were lost in one afternoon in the Blue Mountains.
“The community needs to understand that fire can occur at any time and preparation is the key,” Mr McDonald said.
“There won’t be a fire truck at every house.”
Parts of Gippsland in Victoria’s east are again expected to be impacted by fires, amid the third consecutive year of significant rainfall deficits and above normal fire conditions.
“What that means is we’re more likely to see protracted campaign fires which is exactly what we saw last year on the back of record-low rainfalls during winter for the previous two years,” Emergency Management Victoria Commissioner Andrew Crisp said.
Tasmania Fire Service acting chief officer Bruce Byatt predicted an early start to the fire season on the state’s east coast, an area popular with tourists.
“We are expecting large-scale fires to occur on the east coast,” he said.
Fire agencies in NSW and Queensland also face issues with a lack of water to fight blazes in some areas, with bulk water supplies shipped into some NSW towns.