Rapid Roundup: Bushfires in Perth – experts respond

Bushfires in Perth which began yesterday have destroyed or threatened a number of homes, farms and vineyards, and forced hundreds of people to flee.

Our colleagues at the Australian Science Media Centre have collected comments on the bushfires. Any further comments will be posted on their website at www.aussmc.org. If you would like to speak to an expert, please don’t hesitate to contact us on (08) 7120 8666 or by email.

Prof David Bowman, Professor of Forest Ecology in the School of Plant Science at the University of Tasmania, comments:

“It is true that we are expecting more bushfires under climate change – but bushfires are part of the fabric of Australian environment – a continent ecology wrought by fire, storm, flood and drought. So any single bushfire needs to be put into a historical and ecological context. The catch is we have a fairly sketchy historical record which makes it difficult to detect changes in bushfire activity – nonetheless we scientists are working on this aspect of our national history reaching back 100s of years in time. Also humans, particularly in high population concentrations add to the risk of fire by adding ignitions on dangerous days – hot windy weather that follows seasonal drought.  So while it is apparently perverse to have bushfires on the west while floods on the east and storms on the north of the continent it really is characteristic of this tough old land.  The key issue is Australians need to  come to accept that these natural challenges are part of the deal of living in Australia – we still need to learn how to adapt to these challenges and recognise the environment is shaping us as much as we are shaping the environment.”

Mr David Bruce, from the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), comments:

“The current fires in Western Australia are consistent with the national seasonal bushfire forecast that the Bushfire CRC released last October. Even though many other parts of Australia have received plenty of rainfall over the past year south-west Western Australia had its driest winter on record, following many years of drought. So even with some good rain in recent months it was only going to take a blast of hot summer weather and wind to bring back conditions where serious bushfires can occur. This is a timely reminder to much of Australia that fire and flood are a regular occurrence and no one should be complacent about preparing our response agencies and our local communities as best as possible over the long term, no matter what the current weather conditions may be.”