Heat stokes fire fears

Zoe KeenanSouth Western Times
Scenes of devastation in Yarloop after the catastrophic bushfires.
Camera IconScenes of devastation in Yarloop after the catastrophic bushfires. Credit: The West Australian

A dry winter and record high November temperatures means the South West could be gearing up for a devastating bushfire season.

As fires ravage the Eastern States, red flags are appearing for the South West region with conditions already ripe for fires, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Department of Fire and Emergency Services South West acting superintendent Peter Stewart urged residents, particularly in rural properties, to prepare for fires now.

He said residents should take note of victims who have had their houses destroyed in the last week on the east coast.

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“Listen to what these victims and witnesses are saying – they all said they didn’t think it would happen to them,” Mr Stewart said.

“It just proves it can happen to anyone ... people need to be prepared and start now, don’t wait, the heat of summer is on us.”

He urged residents to have the five-minute fire chat with their families and neighbours.

This month several South West towns have broken records for the highest November temperatures including Cape Naturaliste with 35C and Busselton with 36C, according to the Bureau.

Combining record highs earlier in the month with a drier than average winter in the South West, bushfires are already hitting the region.

Early Wednesday morning the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions issued a bushfire alert for the northern parts of Brookhampton in the Shire of Donnybrook-Balingup, including people travelling along the South Western Highway.

A bushfire alert also went up Wednesday near Johnston Road and Teesdale Street in Yarloop.

It has been almost four years since two lives were lost in a bushfire that destroyed 181 homes and buildings and 70,000ha of bush in Yarloop and Waroona.

“In the early parts of November and late October we’re typically coming out of a wet winter ... but the conditions this winter over the three month period were relatively dry,” a bureau spokesman said.

“Many places were below average rainfall in the South West.

“If you put that into context of already dry conditions, going into the driest period of the year normally, and above average temperatures, it lends itself to the narrative for this bushfire season to be worse than the last two years.”

The fifth biennial State of the Climate report by the Bureau and CSIRO revealed there have been long-term increases in extreme weather and in the length of fire seasons across Australia.

The findings also revealed April to October rainfall had decreased in the South West of Australia and decreased by about 20 per cent between May and July in the same region since 1970.

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