On Monday the Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard visited the bushfire devastated town of Dunalley in Tasmania and expressed her support for the residents of the town, many of whom lost everything, and outlined emergency assistance measures being taken by both the Federal and Tasmanian Government.
She also said, very briefly, that bushfires were part of Australian life in a hot and dry country. But then she went a step further. She acknowledged that climate change contributes to the frequency and intensity of bushfires through more extreme weather events like the current extreme Heatwave.
"And while you would not put any one event down to climate change ... we do know that over time as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events," she said as reported by Andrew Darby for the Brisbane Times.
Indeed we are Prime Minister. Fire weather will worsen with global warming. Certainly we will need to adapt to more frequent and intense fireweather, but we also need to keep working on reducing carbon emissions which is driving climate change. And we need to kick the coal addiction which is one of the major sources of carbon emissions.
The Prime Minister spoke to local people who had lost everything and heard several harrowing stories of escape from the intense fire front that roared down and engulfed the town. Many people fled from shore in boats, some had no recourse except to immerse themselves in the water at a pier until the ferocity of the flames had died down.
Some good news is that search teams have so far not found any bodies in the burnt wreckage of buildings in the Tasmania fires. Perhaps a good sign that more people have fire plans and are putting them into effect.
NSW facing extreme temperatures and bushfire intensity
Julia Gillard also gave a warning to the people of New South Wales. Extreme heat across the state is expected. Sydney is forecast to get up to 43 degrees, a few degrees shy of the record 45.3 set on January 14 in 1939. Many outback towns in New South Wales and extending over inland areas covering northern Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia may see temperatures in the mid to high 40s. Winds gusting up to 80kms/hr are expected in many areas. Lush Vegetation from two years of abundant rain ready to burn after 9 months of drying - tinder dry. Fire weather.
NSW Premier Barrie O'Farrellsaid Monday evening "[It] is not just going to be in the 40s. It will perhaps be the worst fire danger the state has ever faced,". A Total fire ban for New South Wales is in force for Tuesday.
On Monday night more than 90 fires were burning across the state and at least 20 were uncontained. By Tuesday evening 137 fires were catalogued as burning and over 40 fires were uncontained.
The Fire Commissioner, Greg Mullins, said Monday: "We are expecting extremely dangerous bushfire conditions, the likes of which haven't been seen in NSW for many years. It is 19 years to the day that we saw more than 100 homes destroyed in southern and northern Sydney." Mullins predicted that it "is going to be the worst fire danger day in parts of this state we've ever experienced."
Catastrophic Fire Danger was listed for Tuesday 8 January 2013 for Illawarra, Shoalhaven and Southern Ranges. The Riverina was also added. The rest of the state is listed as Extreme.
The temperature in Sydney climbed to 42.3 degrees at 2.03pm and stayed near this temperature before starting a slight fall from 6.30pm. The temperature at 11pm is still 34.9C.
Over 14000 firemen and women are battling the blazes around the state. Five emergency warnings are located:
- Cobbler Road, near Jugiong; where a house has been destroyed
- Deans Gap in the Shoalhaven area, where the fire has crossed the Princes Highway; Fire threatens Suusex Inlet. ABC Illawarra: Firefighters wait in position at Susex Inlet for Deans Gap fire to track north
- Sand Hills at Bungendore, where the Kings Highway is closed;
- Tarcutta along the Mats Gully Road; where at one stage the Hume Highway was closed.
- Yarrabin along the Kybeyan Valley near Cooma. About 30 house4s are threatened.
Other large fires are burning uncontrolled in the Upper Lachlan area around Forbes, near Parkes,
Some 55,000 hectares has been burnt with mainly losses to farming properties including crops and livestock.
Total Fire Ban has been extended for Wednesday for the entire state of NSW,
Across the border in Victoria Two houses have been destroyed by a fast-moving grassfire at Chepstowe, west of Ballarat, in Victoria. An emergency warning remains in place. The Western Freeway has been closed between Ballarat and Ararat.
A cool change is moving through NSW overnight bringing some relief to fire fighters and the extreme conditions. But the continental heat dome has not gone away and high temperatures are likely to manifest later in the week. It has already been an extraordinary week of exceptional weather showing the reality of Climate Change: Records tumble in extreme heatwave as temperature scale adjusted upwards.
- Lead Image: PM Julia Gillard with Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings at a press Conference
- Brisbane Times, 7 January 2013 - Tasmanian fires prompt PM's grim climate warning
- Sydney Morning Herald, 8 January 2013 - 'Worst fire danger the state has faced'
- ABC 8 January 2013 - Live: Catastrophic fire alerts as heatwave hits
- Sydney Morning Herald - 8 January 2013 - Live: NSW braces for one of the hottest days on record