The influence of La Niña on Victoria’s climate has had a noticeable effect on fire potential in Victoria, with above average summer rainfall leading to a reduced bushfire risk for autumn.
According to the latest Australian Seasonal Outlook for Autumn released today, above average summer rainfall has occurred over much of Victoria, with daily maximum temperatures below average across the south, and average across the north of the state.
These conditions have led to reduced fire activity in both grasslands and forests, with a cumulative area burnt of 6,800 hectares to date this summer, compared to the 10-year annual average burnt per year of 252,026 hectares.
The Australian Seasonal Outlook for Autumn was developed by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, Bureau of Meteorology, and relevant state fire and land managers.
So far this fire season - from 1 December 2020 to now (mid-February 2021) - we have seen 1,955 bush, grass, and scrub fires across the state. This compares to 3,342 from summer 2019-2020 and 2,548 from 2018-2019.
The autumn outlook also predicts below normal fire potential in wet forests and many foothill forests in Victoria due to higher than normal soil moisture levels limiting the flammability of vegetation or fuels.
CFA Chief Officer Jason Heffernan said firefighters were pleased that this fire season has been significantly milder than last year’s and welcome the opportunity for FFMVic and CFA crews to carry out planned burning to take place in many parts of Victoria much earlier than in recent years.
“However, we also remind all Victorians that the whole state is still under fire restrictions, so make sure you visit firepermits.vic.gov.au if you’re wanting to undertake any burning on private property," he said.
“We also urge Victorians to stay informed about conditions and keep their bushfire plan up to date as we can still see some days of elevated fire danger well into autumn. If you have a plan, you can act to survive.”
Forest Fire Management Victoria Chief Fire Officer Chris Hardman said the conditions over summer have allowed FFMVic to undertake a small number of planned burns while still responding to hundreds of fires this season, including more than 550 unattended campfires across the state.
"Forest Fire Management Victoria and CFA crews conduct fuel reduction burns year-round, when conditions are suitable, to reduce the size, intensity and impact of future bushfires to communities and the environment," he said.
“As conditions become more favourable for planned burning in autumn, expect to see a significant increase in the number of planned burns and hectares treated.”
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said the below average potential for autumn bushfires is good news for emergency services, but the new growth also raises the potential for grassfires which can move quickly and threaten properties and life.
“Regardless of the outlook, emergency services treat each season with the same level of preparation to ensure community safety,” he said.
Preparations by the emergency management sector for the 2020-2021 bushfire season saw an increase in planning for the risk of fire and extreme weather, with the added complexity of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Despite the autumn outlook indicating a lower bushfire potential, there will still likely be days of elevated fire danger. Victorians should never be complacent when planning and preparing for the risk of fire and severe weather.
Emergency Management Victoria will continue to work closely with the emergency services sector to ensure the safety of Victorian communities, beyond the summer fire season.
Fire Rescue Commissioner Ken Block said Fire Rescue Victoria is prepared and ready to respond to any grassfires or bushfires that may occur throughout autumn.”
“While it is welcome news that there will be average to above-average rainfall this autumn, we remind people not to be complacent about bush and grassfire risks, and to monitor conditions in your area," he said.
“If you live next to grasslands and a fire breaks out, walk two streets back. If you live more than two streets away, stay indoors with windows and doors shut and your air conditioner turned off.”
For more information on how to stay updated, visit www.cfa.vic.gov.au View the full seasonal outlook here.