By Paul Bibby
Maddy Pearson has seen first-hand what a big bushfire can do.
It was part of the reason why the Sydney teenager decided to become a NSW Rural Fire Service volunteer.
“I went out to Llandilo last year after the bushfire – it was pretty devastated,” she says.
“The fire had just stripped the bushland.”
Ready for the fire season
Maddy, 15, goes to Windsor High School in north-west Sydney.
She is just one of thousands of volunteer bushfire fighters preparing for the bushfire season.
The experts say there could be lots of fires this summer because much of the country has had very little rain over winter and the first half of spring.
This means the bush is very dry, making it easy for fires to start and spread.
“Eastern Australia, South Australia and Western Australia have all seen lower than average rainfall, so there’s some concern about trees, plants and so on being pretty dry,” says David Jones, who’s an expert in climate at the Bureau of Meteorology.
“Leaves, bark, branches on the ground need to reach a certain dryness before they can burn in a bushfire so it’s something we always look out for in the lead-up to summer.”
Fortunately the long dry period up and down the east coast of Australia ended in October.
Rain at last
“We’ve seen a lot of rain in Queensland, and Sydney has been much better after a spell that was the driest on record,” says Dr Jones.
A weather pattern called La Nina could also bring more rain, but it will only affect the east coast and will only have a small effect.
“Now we’re more concerned about south-west WA where things have continued to be dry with very little rain at all,” he says. “That could mean the fires are more severe there this year.”
Aside from very dry conditions in the bush, the main thing that raises the risk of really bad bushfires is temperature.
“It’s just that much easier for a fire to start on a hot day and for a fire to get out of control,” says Dr Jones.
“Also, when it’s very hot it usually means low humidity – less moisture in the air.
“Imagine it: if you’ve got a wet piece of paper it’s very hard to set it on fire, but dry it in the oven for half an hour and it will burn very easily.”
How to prepare for bushfire season
1. Have a family talk about what to do if a bushfire threatens your home
2. Help your family get your house ready. That means things like keeping the grass low and clearing an area around your home of branches and leaves
3. Learn the bushfire alert levels
SOURCE NSW Rural Fire Service
Hotter than average
Dr Jones doesn’t expect this summer to be as hot as those of 2015 and 2016, which were the hottest on record. But temperatures will still be above average.
“The last six months have been the third hottest on record, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that the temperature over summer is expected to be above average,” he says.
Whether we have a super hot summer or not, the best advice is to be prepared.
“Be ready in case there is a bushfire in your area,” says Maddy. “And if there is, know where you’re going to go.”
Fire danger ratings
Low, moderate, high and very high Be ready to act.
Severe Only stay in your home if you are ready to defend it. If not, leave early.
Extreme Only stay in your home if it is designed to resist a bushfire and you are ready to defend it. Otherwise, leave.
Catastrophic Leaving early is the only option.
(Advice may be different in different states)
SOURCE NSW Rural Fire Service