Drought and climate change were the kindling, and now Australia's east coast is ablaze

phys.org | 11/10/2019 | Staff
dewbydewby (Posted by) Level 4
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Live fuel moisture content in late October 2019. The ‘dry’ and ‘transitional’ moisture categories correspond to conditions associated with over 95% of historical area burned by bushfire. Credit: Estimated from MODIS satellite imagery for the Sydney basin Bioregion.

Last week saw an unprecedented outbreak of large, intense fires stretching from the mid-north coast of New South Wales into central Queensland.

Losses - NSW - Hectares - People - Homes

The most tragic losses are concentrated in northern NSW, where 970,000 hectares have been burned, three people have died, and at least 150 homes have been destroyed.

A catastrophic fire warning for Tuesday has been issued for the Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter, Shoalhaven and Illawarra areas. It is the first time Sydney has received a catastrophic rating since the rating system was developed in 2009.

Relief - Sight - Weather - Magnitude - Fires

No relief is in sight from this extremely hot, dry and windy weather, and the extraordinary magnitude of these fires is likely to increase in the coming week. Alarmingly, as Australians increasingly seek a sea-change or tree-change, more people are living in the path of these destructive fires.

Large fires have happened before in northern NSW and southern Queensland during spring and early summer (for example in 1994, 1997, 2000, 2002, and 2018 in northern NSW). But this latest extraordinary situation raises many questions.

Fires - Size - Number - Fires - Timing

It is as if many of the major fires in the past are now being rerun concurrently. What is unprecedented is the size and number of fires rather than the seasonal timing.

The potential for large, intense fires is determined by four fundamental ingredients: a continuous expanse of fuel; extensive and continuous dryness of that fuel; weather conditions conducive to the rapid spread of fire; and ignitions, either human or lightning. These act as a set of switches, in series: all must be "on" for major fires to occur.

NSW - North - Coast - Tablelands

The NSW north coast and tablelands, along with much of...
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