The number of high-risk fire days will double in the Ballarat region by the end of the century, according to climate research conducted by the Country Fire Authority and international research bodies.
The first stage of the research, published this month in the International Journal of Wildland Fire, found that both mean and extreme fire danger days would increase in Victoria under different emissions scenarios.
CFA Manager of Research and Development, Dr Sarah Harris, co-authored the research.
"Between the various Victorian fire agencies we've had a real need to understand what climate change means for fire agencies and the communities we are trying to protect," she said.
With climate change expected to result in increases in temperature of between 1 and 5C by the end of the 21st century, according to the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology, with a 15-25 per cent reduction in winter and spring rainfall the changes are expected to increase fire danger in south east Australia.
In conducting the research, Dr Harris said it was paramount to determine regionally specific information of the parameters that make up fire danger and for the creation of a data set that could be used to understand it in the long term.
Dr Harris said researchers looked at a range of emissions scenarios - low, medium and high - and found an overall increase in temperature across all of the 12 models.
She said scenarios employed in the research showed increased temperature - caused by human-induced climate change - to be the main driver of heightened fire danger, along with decreased rainfall in spring and summer and a decrease in relative humidity.
"Changes in temperature, humidity and rainfall during spring and early summer mean the fire season will continue to start earlier and run longer," she said.
Changes in temperature, humidity and rainfall during spring and early summer mean the fire season will continue to start earlier and run longerDr Sarah Harris
A warming planet will have a critical impact on the fire season, meaning fuels will dry out and be more flammable. The longer fire seasons will also present 'more extreme fire weather'.
In the highest emission scenario, researchers found there would be a 10 to 20 per cent increase in maximum fire weather - extreme Forest Fire Danger Index - across the state. The greatest change was projected in north-west Victoria.
The research projected a gradual relative change, ultimately leading to a doubling of 'very high' or greater fire danger days in the central part of the state, encompassing the Ballarat region.
Meanwhile, the number of 'very high' or greater fire risk days would triple in the eastern part of the state.
As well as changes to the fire season, climate change and accompanying increasing temperatures and dryness in spring will also have flow-on effects to hazard reduction activities, such as the window of opportunities for prescribed burning potentially reducing.
Dr Harris said climate drivers, such as more rainfall projected this coming spring, would continue to play a large role in year-to-year variability, meaning not every year would necessarily be worse than the last.
The latest weather data shows parts of Victoria are forecast to have a wet spring.
The quarterly national Seasonal Bushfire Outlook for September to November, developed by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC), the Bureau of Meteorology and state fire services agencies, was released this week. I
t predicts the average to above average rainfall across most of Victoria will lead to strong grass growth and the potential of increased grassfire conditions as vegetation dries out.
It is hoped the CFA's research can be used to better prepare fire agencies, and the community, for the future.
It is hoped the research can be used to better prepare fire agencies, and the community, for the future.
"Research helps provide that evidence to think about how we might need to prepare and respond in the future," Dr Harris said.
"With the data set we can understand what that means for our capacity and capability and how we might need to adapt - do we need more trucks, to innovate or change how we fight fires? That's what we can use this data set for."
Dr Harris said one of the biggest factors in undertaking the research was to "better understand the impacts and implications of climate change, to lead to a better-prepared fire agency and community to understand the increasing and changing risk of fire".
Dr Harris said the data set was fantastic to predict fire weather until 2100.
In addition to this first stage of the research, Dr Harris said researchers were currently undertaking further studies into the effect of climate change on vegetation types.
A better understanding of how fuels will respond to climate change will help to paint a better picture of how fire activity will change.
"This study talks about fire weather but we don't know how vegetation will respond. So the next step is looking at how different vegetation types and the fuel will respond to climate change.
"That will then give us a full picture of what that means for the fire regime."
CFA Chief Officer, Jason Heffernan, said the fire service's robust research program brought further understanding of the impacts of climate change in the context of firefighting.
"As firefighters, we see the effects of these longer and more severe fire seasons and it's important that we turn our minds towards what firefighting looks like in the not-too-distant future," he said.
"CFA is undertaking work to identify challenges brought on by climate change and increased fire risk, and ways to solve them through adaptation and mitigation."
The CFA works to reduce its own greenhouse emissions through initiatives such as installing rooftop solar and the number of hybrid vehicles in its fleet.
Forest Fire Management Victoria Chief Fire Officer, Chris Hardman, said partnerships with community and fire agencies helped to ensure unified emergency preparedness and response to keep the community and environment safe.
We know that Victoria is one of the most bushfire-prone areas in the world. Climate change is increasing the risk bushfires pose to our communities, our critical infrastructure and our environmentChris Hardman, FFMVic
"We know that Victoria is one of the most bushfire-prone areas in the world. Climate change is increasing the risk bushfires pose to our communities, our critical infrastructure and our environment," he said.
"That's why our strategic approach to managing bushfire risk is based on the best evidence available, such as this research.
"We have a 365-day approach to fuel management, more mechanical treatment and increasing capacity to contain bushfires at first attack.
"We are also prioritising empowering Traditional Owners to lead self-determined cultural fire practices on country."
The research was funded by Safer Together - a Victorian approach to reduce fire risk through the collaboration of agencies including CFA, Forest Fire Management Victoria and Parks Victoria who combine knowledge with the latest science and technology to reduce fire risk on both public and private land.
The research was conducted with assistance from researchers Scott Clark (School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, Monash University), Timothy Brown (Desert Research Institute in Nevada, USA), Graham Mills (Monash University) and John T. Abatzoglou (School of Engineering, University of California).
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