Large swathes of WA face a heightened bushfire risk this summer as hot and dry conditions combine with heavy fuel loads, prompting authorities to remind everyone to be prepared.
The national bushfire outlook for summer, released on Tuesday, warns of above-normal fire potential for the Darling Scarp just east of Perth and western parts of the South West jarrah forest region down to Manjimup, where lower-than-usual rainfall has left soil moisture below average.
“We know bushfires are particularly difficult to manage in forested areas so it does present some elevated risk for us this year,” Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm said.
Parts of the Pilbara, Gascoyne and Murchison also face a higher-than-usual bushfire risk, with thick fuel loads including fully cured grasses set to combine with warmer and drier than usual weather in a tinderbox scenario.
“We’re going to have an incredibly dry and hot December through to March … that’s when we’re going to see all of the fuels completely dried out across the bottom half of the State,” Commissioner Klemm said.
“We’re going to get difficult days this year again … We know it is going to be incredibly difficult to keep fires small.”
Fortunately for the Great Southern and Wheatbelt regions, strong November rainfall has brought soil moisture to above-average levels.
“The Wheatbelt is going to take longer to dry out so we’re not going to see incredibly elevated risk of bushfire in the Wheatbelt, probably not until we get into January,” Commissioner Klemm said.
A large air tanker — which are faster, have larger capacity and longer range compared to the rest of WA’s aerial firefighting fleet — will be based permanently in WA for the first time this summer. They are also able to fly in extreme conditions including low visibility.
The State has previously relied on available aircraft through the National Aerial Firefighting Centre.
Commissioner Klemm said he was confident WA’s request to send over a second LAT from the east coast this summer would be met.
There is also above-average bushfire risk for massive area inland NSW and southern Queensland, where fuel loads are heavy after torrential rain.
But their season won’t start until after Christmas, Commissioner Klemm said, so the LAT was best placed here during December.
“We’ll base them both at Busselton, and that’s around the infrastructure that we’ve installed there, to be able to fill it up with retardant,” he said.
Commissioner Klemm urged all communities to be prepared, no matter the risk level, which could rapidly worsen during the season.
“During summer, vegetation naturally dries out and the risk of bushfire can escalate quickly with any extended period of hot, dry and windy weather,” he said.
“Considering more than 93 per cent of our State is bushfire-prone, no one can afford to be complacent.
“Create or update your bushfire plan, stay aware of the conditions in your area and visit Emergency WA for current alerts and warnings.
“It’s also important for people travelling over the holiday period to be mindful of the potential risks at their destination, so incorporate bushfire preparation into your travel plans.
“Work out exactly what you’re going to do together to make sure you’re keeping your family safe this summer.”
Last summer, 1751 bushfires were reported across WA, with 789 of these reported in the Perth metropolitan area.