Tinderbox Nation As Australia Lives Through Hottest Days On Record

Australia’s most populous state is bracing itself for its hottest day of the year combined with strong winds, even as it faces dozens of major fires still burning and its largest city is still reeling from its smokiest day ever.

In NSW, with the shellshocked 7.5 million residents facing the prospect of still more fires, the state’s fire service has added technology to its armoury, with the website www.myfireplan.com.au inviting residents to put their fire plans into writing, offering practical advice and links to other live websites.

The links include updates on the state’s active fire fronts, as well as news on traffic and road closures and downloads for smartphone apps for personalised and local alerts.

The advice includes what to do if you have to evacuate, including reminders to turn off gas mains, move flammable items away from the house, block drainpipes with socks full of sand and fill gutters with water, close doors, windows and vents, and to soak towels and rugs and lay them across external doorways.

The site also recommends a rendezvous point for family, a reminder to keep any pets with you, pack the items you wish to take with you, as identified in your bush fire survival plan well before you leave, keep access gates open if you live in the bush to help firefighters, confirm your evacuation route is clear, tell a friend or relative where you are going - and let them know when you are safe.

A water bombing helicopter near Bipin, NSW.
Image Credit: Jeremy Piper

In the wake of a scorching hot spring, the nation is already experiencing an early and unusually brutal summer heatwave.

Perth has had three straight days with a maximum temperature at or above 40C so far, which has broken the previous monthly record for December of two days, last reached in 2007. It also experienced its hottest November day on record.

Coming into the festive season, the nation is bracing for an unrelentingly hot Christmas and January.

And the health effects can be enormous. Extreme heat is the biggest weather-related killer in Australia, according to the BOM.

Heat waves like the current ongoing event are also clearly connected to long-term, human-caused global warming.

Right now, the very large Gospers Mountain blaze is rampant across nearly 500,000ha northwest of Sydney.

This blaze has already claimed numerous homes and threatens many more.

Smoke from this fire and others has periodically shrouded the country’s largest city in noxious smoke, posing serious health risks.

As it has merged with several other nearby fires, the Gospers Mountain blaze is being dubbed a mega-fire. It is now recognised as the epicentre of the biggest forest fire to have started from a single ignition point that Australia has ever known and has burnt out an area seven times the size of Singapore.

Firefighters battle a blaze in Bilpin, Lower Blue Mountains NSW.
Image Credit: Jeremy Piper

"There's been bigger grass fires, but by any stretch it's the biggest forest fire in Australian history," says Ross Bradstock, director of the Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires at the University of Wollongong.

And in what can only be called the ultimate climate change irony, firefighters are currently desperately trying to protect the Springvale Coal Mine and Mount Piper coal-fired power station which provides up to 10 per cent of Sydney’s energy, as the fire marches relentlessly towards both.

Furthermore, the Rural Fire Service fire maps indicate two fires have converged over the Tahmoor coal mine.

According to Dr Nikola Casule, Head of Research and Investigations at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, coal is extremely flammable, meaning any fires could likely burn for weeks, “emitting toxic fumes which will aggravate the already dangerous levels of air pollution across New South Wales.

“The toxic fumes emitted from coal mine fires not only put workers and emergency services responders at extreme risk, but families and communities as well.”

“Coal mine fires would cause a significant worsening of the air pollution crisis we are already experiencing, as coal produces highly toxic emissions that are incredibly dangerous to families, and especially young children and the elderly,” Dr Casule said.

FInd out how you can help support your local firebridgae and its firefighters:

NSW Rural Firebrigade

RFBAQ Firebrigade 

DFES Firebrigade


Lead Image: Bushfires burn uncontrollably in Bilpin (Lower Blue Mountains NSW).
Photo Credit: Jeremy Piper

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