Australian bushfires likely to happen again – and they could be even worse, inquiry warns

Australia saw its worst bushfire season on record in 2019-20.
CNN  — 

Australia’s record-breaking 2019-20 bushfires were likely made worse by climate change, an inquiry has found, warning that such devastating wildfires are likely to happen again.

Next time, the fires could even be “potentially worse,” according to the report, which was released Tuesday.

The New South Wales (NSW) Bushfire Inquiry was formed in January and examined the worst Australian fire season on record.

The report categorized the fires as “extreme, and extremely unusual,” but warned “it is clear that we should expect fire seasons like 2019-20, or potentially worse, to happen again.”

It also said climate change “clearly played a role in the conditions that led up to the fires and in the unrelenting conditions that supported the fires to spread, but climate change does not explain everything that happened.”

Fires burned through forested regions at a rate never before seen in recorded history, according to the report. There were 89 fire-generated firestorms – extremely dangerous phenomena that cause lightning, tornadoes and extreme winds – a 50% increase from the 2018-19 season.

Extreme dryness in forested regions; large amounts of fuel load, such as leaf litter; and dry, hot weather spurred the fires, which spread quickly over large areas, according to the report.

The inquiry provided 76 recommendations on how the state could improve its fire preparedness and response – all of which were accepted by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

“There were unprecedented conditions coupled with the drought, the fuel loads in some areas, but moreover that the climate is changing and we have to accept and expect that part of the ferocity we saw was a combination of those things,” Berejiklian said, reports CNN affiliate 7News.

“Our government is working as hard as we can, as fast, as efficiently as we can to resource up our agencies but also do everything we can to mitigate the risk.”

Some of the recommendations focus on using aerial firefighting to improve early fire suppression, which the report concludes was difficult in the 2019-20 season. It calls for a trial that would test sending in firefighting aircraft before ground crews in certain situations and another that would try aerial fire fighting at night.

The report also calls for better vegetation clearing programs, including investigating subsidies in order that individual landowners can play a greater role in managing fire risk

Other recommendations focus on technology, with calls for the NSW state government – along with other Australian governments – to push for a national bushfire database, further develop remote fire sensing systems and establish the state as a global hub for bushfire research.