Media release

Bushfire Season “a wake-up call” to heightened risk, firefighters say

More than half a million hectares of land has been burnt since October, with firefighters describing this bushfire season as “a wake-up call” to heightened risk of catastrophic fire weather conditions in Australia, under a changing climate.

Australian Climate and Firefighters Alliance spokesman Paul Gray said catastrophic fire events were becoming more frequent and harder to predict due to rapid changes in weather patterns and increasing fuel loads.

The latest data reveals that since October 1 bushfires have razed more than 500,000 hectares of land – destroying 222 homes, 345 sheds and other structures, and killing tens of thousands of livestock.

Eight lives have been lost in bushfires that occurred in Western Australia and South Australia, as firefighters continue to battle a blaze that razed the township of Yarloop near Waroona in WA.

According to figures from the Insurance Council of Australia, financial losses claimed so far in the fires it declared “catastrophic” (Pinery in South Australia, Wye River in Victoria and Waroona in Western Australia) is more than a quarter of a billion dollars ($282.2 million[1]) and rising.

“While it is impossible to put a price on a human life, the cost of property and livestock destroyed in these fire events alone is staggering,” Mr Gray said.

“When coupled with the devastation to communities and the families and friends of those lost, it’s obvious that we need to be doing as much as we can to ensure our own government and those overseas commit to stabilising global temperatures before it is too late. The danger to communities and the risks to civilians and the firefighters employed to protect them are too great.”

Darin Sullivan, president of the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union and a firefighter of more than 25 years’ experience, said in order to minimise future damage Australia must urgently:

  1. Restructure fire services nationally to remove needless duplication;
  2. Dramatically and rapidly increase the number of well-equipped, full-time professional firefighters employed across the country; and
  3. Address climate change, which is making bushfire seasons hotter, longer and drier.

“The environment is the workplace of firefighters. The inaction and political procrastination taking place is making our workplace and our communities more dangerous,” Mr Sullivan said.

“We know what is going to happen this summer. We know what is going to happen next summer. Unfortunately, we also know what is going to happen in years to come if action is not taken now – and it won’t be good.”

The worst blazes this season are:

  • A controlled burn started in Lancefield-Cobaw in Victoria that jumped containment lines and destroyed 4 houses and 300 hectares of land in October.
  • Fires at Esperance in Western Australia which killed four people. More than 315,000 hectares of land was destroyed in November along with 15,000 livestock.
  • The November Pinery fires of South Australia, which killed two people. Fire agencies estimate 85,000 hectares of land was destroyed along with 91 houses, 300 sheds and other structures, and 20,000 livestock.
  • A 4000-hectare bushfire at Scotsburn, Victoria in which 12 houses were lost, along with 23 sheds and other structures, in December.
  • Christmas bushfires in Victoria that destroyed 116 houses along the Great Ocean Road in Wye River and Separation Creek, as well as 2200 hectares of land.
  • Fires that continue to burn neat Waroona in Western Australia after two people lost their lives at Yarloop, where 128 homes and 15 sheds and other structures were destroyed.

For a full breakdown of 2015-16 bushfire season data, or for interview requests, please contact Zoe on 0400 144 794 or [email protected] or Dinah on 0425 791 394 or[email protected]

[1]As of January 11, 2016. This figure does not include appeal funds or government payments.