Most of western Victoria can expect above-average fire activity this summer as warm weather dries out forests and winter rain adds fuel in grassland regions.
Fire authorities and the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre released the Southern Australia Seasonal Bushfire Outlook yesterday.
It states: “Large areas of southern Australia, especially along the east and west coasts extending inland, face above-normal fire potential for the 2013-14 fire season”.
The outlook is a key tool for fire preparations. Its release comes after August produced another slew of records, particularly for winter warmth while rainfall was about half the long-term average for the month.
Much of eastern Australia reported its mildest winter, and the past 12 months have also been the country’s warmest in more than a century of records.
For Victoria, the area that may get increased fire activity stretches west of a line roughly drawn between Melbourne and Albury-Wodonga.
“Spring is the real set up for them,” said Aaron Coutts-Smith, head of climate monitoring in the state for the Bureau of Meteorology.
“If they get a really dry spring in Victoria, that has the potential to change the outlook” to a higher fire risk, he said.
Fire authorities have been stepping up fuel-reduction burning to take advantage of a favourable window of conditions before warm weather arrives.
“But that could quite easily close if we see above-average temperatures,” Dr Coutts-Smith said.
He said that compared with last year, the area of increased risk was the coastal strip stretching from South West Rocks, near Kempsey, on the mid-north coast of NSW down into east Gippsland in Victoria.
“That’s on account of the relatively dry conditions that we’ve seen there in the recent past,” Dr Coutts-Smith said.
Most of the region has seen below-average rain since May – with the exception of a wet first fortnight in June.
Factors influencing fire risks include existing and expected fuel loads, and the climate outlook over the next few months.
Victoria’s Country Fire Authority chief officer Euan Ferguson said controlled burning would soon begin in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, coastal areas and the Grampians.