The 2019/2020 Australian bushfire season is far from over but has already been unprecedented in its destruction. Since August multiple concurrent and sequential bushfires across many states have resulted in loss of life and destruction of homes, businesses, farms, infrastructure and the environment. By the end of January over 9.8 million hectares has been burnt with over 3048 homes destroyed (AFAC). Unlike other major seasons where destruction has occurred in one day, the damage toll has been the contribution of numerous major fires across the season.
Infrastructure damage has resulted in widespread blackouts and telecommunications failures, with those at risk unable to obtain bushfire warnings. Road closures resulted in isolation, concerns for food security and forced medical evacuations.
The threat of bushfires saw local tourist economies damaged and warnings to international tourists to avoid travel to Australia; bushfire smoke caused public health issues and business disruption; and burning of vegetation in water catchments reduced water quality and contributed to fish kills.
Environmental damage has been severe, with an estimated one billion wild animals killed (UNEP) and threats to those that have survived due to habitat destruction. Smoke from bushfires affected New Zealand and travelled to South America.
Bushfires have occurred at the time of severe drought, when heatwaves, severe storms, floods and cyclones have also threatened Australian communities. Losses from recent hailstorms in NSW, VIC and the ACT are reported as half a billion dollars and rising.
An immense effort has been launched by all tiers of Government including contributions by international defence and firefighting agencies. Businesses, not-for-profit and community service organisations have provided immense support. In recent weeks the strain on resources has been compounded by the emergence of the 2019-nCoV outbreak.
The events have provided an illustration of a compound event with its component events made up of multiple cascading consequences which have caused complex resourcing, coordination and recovery challenges.
Australia has been experiencing more frequent fire weather, and fire seasons are longer. This trend is expected to continue under the influence of climate change.
In our 25th anniversary edition we provide a brief overview of Risk Frontiers’ bushfire research to date as well other key analysis related to natural hazards.