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Australia is bracing for another fire season. This is what you need to know



Australia is set to go through its worst bushfire season in four years this spring and summer, as three years of wet give way to below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures.

The first two weeks of spring have already seen hazard reduction burns blanket Sydney in smoke, and warnings issued over fires in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

With conditions set to intensify over the coming months, there are plenty of questions about what the bushfire season will look like. Here's the answer to some of them.

READ MORE: 'Time to plan': Map highlights bushfire risk in multiple states

Hang on, it's been raining for the last three years. Shouldn't that mean we aren't at risk of bad fires?

Unfortunately, it's not quite as simple as that. 

It's true that the excessive rainfall brought about by three successive La Niñas means Australia's soil moisture levels aren't as low as they were in 2019-20, when they contributed to the catastrophic Black Summer fires.

However, the wet conditions have led to vegetation growth, providing more fuel for any blazes that start.

"Higher rainfall over the past two years means there is above-average growth of grassy fuels," the Bureau of Meteorology said.

"This, combined with drying caused by below-average winter rainfall over large parts of western, central and southern Australia, indicates a seasonal bushfire outlook that is above normal for large parts of southern Australia."

READ MORE: Victorian bushfires 'shockingly more frequent'

The powerful La Nina fuelled the powerful Cyclone Yasi which devastated north Queensland.

What's the difference between backburning and hazard reduction burns?

While the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, backburning and hazard reduction burns are very different things.

Hazard reduction burns – also sometimes called prescribed, planned, controlled or fuel-reduction burns – are the operations carried out when fires aren't burning, often out of season, to reduce the amount of fuel in bushfire-prone areas that could help fuel bigger blazes.

Backburning is a firefighting tool employed by crews to reduce fuel in the path of already-burning fires, helping them create containment lines and try to get a blaze under control.

READ MORE: The device that could protect millions of lives come summer

Margaret River bushfire Western Australia

What impact is climate change having on bushfires?

In Australia and around the rest of the world, experts say climate change is making bushfires more severe and frequent.

The BoM has been registering more extreme weather in eastern and southern Australia over summer, as well as bushfire seasons beginning earlier than they used to.

"These trends towards more dangerous bushfire conditions are at least partly attributable to human-caused climate change, including through increased temperatures," it says.

"Northern Australia, which sees significant fire activity during the dry season, has experienced increases in monsoonal rainfall that have increased fuel growth in recent decades, as a key factor influencing fire danger in that region."

Concerningly, this is set to worsen even further in the coming years.

"Bushfire weather conditions in future years are projected to increase in severity for many regions of Australasia, including due to more extreme heat events, with the rate and magnitude of change increasing with greenhouse gas concentrations (and emissions)," the BoM says.

READ MORE: 'Uncharted territory': Grim warning issued ahead of summer

Katoomba, New South Wales

Are bushfires only started by arsonists?

While arson is the cause of some bushfires, the majority are sparked by natural causes.

According to Geoscience Australia, about half of all blazes begin thanks to lightning strikes.

"Bushfires can originate from both human activity and natural causes with lightning the predominant natural source, accounting for about half of all ignitions in Australia," it says.

"Fires of human origin currently account for the remainder and are classified as accidental or deliberate. 

"Fires lit deliberately can be the result of arson or might be designed to achieve a beneficial outcome but conditions have changed, resulting in uncontrollable spread."

Do bushfires only happen where the government wants to build train lines?


This is a conspiracy theory that reared its head during the 2019-20 bushfire season in Australia, as well as the 2018 Californian wildfires.

Something similar even found its way onto social media during the devastating blaze on Maui, Hawaii, earlier this year.

According to the theory, the fires aren't started naturally.

Instead, they're set off by the government – or, depending on who you ask, energy and gas companies, other corporations or even the United Nations – which uses lasers or smart electricity meters lasers to spark the blazes.

The reason for this, the conspiracy claims, is to clear room for high-speed rail projects.

Given Australia's east coast has remained stubbornly bereft of a high-speed rail network since the summer of 2019-20, it'll come as no surprise that there is absolutely no evidence to back up the theory.

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