10.7 million hectares burned (an area larger than Portugal), at least 25 people have lost their lives, more than 1,000 million animals have died and 2,500 houses have been destroyed, Australia continues to burn.
Forest fires are not something new in our antipodes. Every year there is a time when there are fires; however, what is happening this time is NOT normal. 2019 has been the hottest and driest year in this country since there are records, so the period outside fire risk has been reduced, which is when controlled burning can be carried out to reduce the fuel load. Therefore, Australia had a starting situation (more heat, less humidity and more fuel load) that has been the perfect breeding ground for the spread of a high intensity fire.
It is increasingly common that, despite the efforts of the operation, forest fires escape their extinction capacity. A hotter and drier planet is asking for urgent solutions and understanding how this situation of dramatic fires has come about, fires that behave unpredictably and with an intensity that generates microclimates typical of winds and firestorms.
Climate change does not cause fires, but it does aggravate their spread. In this sense, it is necessary to have a good understanding of the root causes (risk of ignition) by investigating the causes and motivations (negligence, intentional or natural) in order to take preventive, self-protection and social awareness initiatives. But in fires of such magnitude as those in Australia, we focus on the causes that spread the fires (spread risk) where climate change is key. With all this, administrations have to:
1. Manage forests, a changing territory that suffers the consequences of climate change
Heat waves and droughts have been prolonged and widespread. As a result, the soil and vegetation are drier and the landscape is more flammable. Preventive forestry and initiatives that reduce and manage the fuel load are needed to have forests that are less vulnerable to climate change.
2. Increased funding for preventive forestry and firefighting services
In Australia, firefighting is run by volunteers (it is the largest and best organized volunteer network in the country). These days they have received donations from civil society. How is it possible that a country like Australia does not professionalize and budget the needs of extinction?
3. Prepare the population for the growing risk of forest fires to prevent and mitigate it
In WUI areas (housing in a natural environment) it is essential that preventive and emergency plans are organized to shorten the times of chaos and deal with the first hours of the fire. These first hours are key for firefighters who have as a priority the safeguarding of people, then assets (houses already empty) and, finally, the environment. In Spain and Australia they have this same order of priorities. If the houses are protected, that would mean having fewer hectares burned and less risk for firefighters who are increasingly facing more dangerous fires. They are eyewitnesses of what has never been seen and for which they even lose their lives.
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