July 29, 2009

Worse Wildfires For Australia Next Year?

Officials fear Australian could suffer even worse wildfires next summer than the deadly blazes that killed a record 173 people in February, AFP reported.

The fire season could be the toughest in a decade, according to Victoria state premier John Brumby.

Brumby said the prognosis in terms of this year's fire season is that it's going to be a "very, very tough fire season again."

"All of the advice at the moment is that this will be as bad, if not worse, than anything that we've seen in the past decade," he added.

A widely leaked Victoria environment department report warned that an El Nino weather pattern would bring extensive drought to southeastern Australia, where entire towns were engulfed in flames during the last southern hemisphere summer.

The warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean causes an El Nino, which results in extensive drought in the west Pacific and has been associated with a spike in fire activity.

Now considered the worst natural disaster in Australia's modern history, one expert likened the intensity of February's fires to the energy produced by 1,500 Hiroshima atomic bombs.

The Victoria report warned Australia was not expecting just another above-average fire season with above-normal losses or risks to life and property, but a "genuine prospect of a season with the greatest potential loss to life and property".

It warned of a "high likelihood" of an El Nino event this year, with an "observed lack of rain, increased evaporation and the strongest predictions so far of the continuation of drier and warmer conditions."

Currently in a decade-long drought, Victoria and its neighboring states experienced a run of record-breaking temperatures in the weeks before the fires, leaving miles of very dry and uncleared bushland.

Preliminary findings from an official inquiry into this year's fires, which consumed more than 2,000 homes, is expected August 17.


Image Caption: MODIS Aqua satellite image of smoke and pyrocumulus cloud over eastern Victoria during the afternoon of 7 February. By 8 February, smoke from the bushfires had reached as far as New Zealand. NASA