Coming bushfire season not as extreme as last summer, says former commissioner

Burnt: The aftermath of the summer bushfires at Kangaroo Valley ... this summer may not be as bad as the one just passed. Picture: Adam McLean.
Burnt: The aftermath of the summer bushfires at Kangaroo Valley ... this summer may not be as bad as the one just passed. Picture: Adam McLean.

It's unlikely this summer will see bushfires on the scale of last year - but we will see those sorts of blazes again in coming years.

And we could even see worse.

That's the sobering opinion of Greg Mullins, former commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW and Rural Fire Service volunteer.

He and others predicted the bushfires would come and tried to warn the federal government, which only met with them in December - after the burning had begun.

Mr Mullins said we won't need to be checking the RFS Fires Near Me app daily this summer - but it could be this coming season, and not the last, that proves the exception.

"I very much doubt we will have another summer like that this year because the moisture profiles are different," Mr Mullins said.

Former NSW Fire and Rescue Commissioner Greg Mullins says we can expect more fire seasons like we saw last summer.

Former NSW Fire and Rescue Commissioner Greg Mullins says we can expect more fire seasons like we saw last summer.

"We had some rains that calmed things down a bit but it's a temporary reprieve. People need to understand in NSW that it used to be 10 or 11 years between bad bushfire seasons. It's between five and six now, so everything's sped up.

"The bad weather patterns that create the worst bushfire years are now closer together - they have been since the mid '90s."

As an example of what could happen, Mr Mullins pointed to the situation in California, where they've had an "unprecented" four bad years in a row.

One factor making bushfires worse, he said, was the rapid increase in pyrocumulonimbus clouds, where fires effectively create their own weather.

"When you get these you get spotting for tens of kilometres, you have dry lightning - but no rain - starting fires 10, 20, 30 kilometres ahead on the ground," he said.

Danger: A change in weather patterns could see more days rated 'catastrophic' for fire danger. Picture: Adam McLean.

Danger: A change in weather patterns could see more days rated 'catastrophic' for fire danger. Picture: Adam McLean.

"You might have a westerly blowing and all the sudden it's blowing from the east and the south with 150km/h gusts that snaps trees off like twigs."

Mr Mullins said that between 1978 and 2001 there were only two confirmed instances of pyrocumulonimbus clouds in Australia and two other possible cases.

Last summer there were at least 45 of them, with at least 15 other possible instances.

"This stuff never used to happen," he said. "Most firefighters never saw this."

Mr Mullins said it's only a matter of time before the fierce fires return - and if one factor is added, the fires will be far worse than what we saw last year.

"The one missing ingredient last year was an El Nino," he said.

"That would bring a couple of extra degrees on average more extreme, drier weather. If we had an overlay of an El Nino I shudder to think what last year would have looked like.

"But that will happen, we will get an extreme year with an El Nino - and if we found last year difficult, brace yourself."

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This story Coming bushfire season not as extreme as last summer, says former commissioner first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.

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