Report concludes climate change will require the number of wildland firefighters in Australia to double by 2030

wildfire activity related to climate change
How climate change affects wildfire activity. From the Climate Council report. Click to see a larger version.

A report issued by Australia’s privately funded Climate Council has concluded that the number of professionals needed to fight bushfires in Australia will double by 2030. This major shift will be required by changes attributed to climate change. The 63-page report, titled Be Prepared: The Changing Climate and Australia’s Bushfire Threat, is entirely devoted to how climate change is already affecting wildland fires and how the rate of change is expected to increase over the next decades.

According to the report the most direct link between bushfires and climate change comes from the long-term trend towards a hotter climate. The change is increasing the frequency and severity of very hot days and driving up the likelihood of very high fire danger caused by weather. Changes in temperature and rainfall may also affˆect the amount and condition of fuel and the probability of lightning strikes.

The report lays out the current and predicted situation extremely well through the text and illuminating graphics. Click on the images here from the report to see larger versions.

I especially like the graphic above, which illustrates how four factors that affect wildland fire are being influenced by climate change

  • Ignitions: more lightning leads to more fires;
  • Fuel load will increase due to higher carbon dioxide levels, higher temperatures, and more rainfall. It could also decrease in some areas and vegetation types as a result of higher temperatures and less rain.
  • Fuel condition: higher temperatures and decreasing rainfall will increase fire activity while more rain in some areas will decrease fire activity.
  • Weather: higher temperatures will greatly increase fire activity.

Obviously it is a complex scenario with the factors having varying effects around the world where climate change affects local areas differently and vegetation types have specific responses to changes in weather.

Average temperature due to climate change

The report concentrates on the effects in Australia, but also covers changes observed world-wide. As we have pointed out, in the United States there was an abrupt transition of fire activity in the mid-1980s with higher fire frequency, longer fire durations, and longer fire seasons. Fire frequency from 1987 to 2003 was nearly four times the average for 1970 through 1986. The area burned from 1987 to 2003 was more than six times that from 1970 to 1986, and the length of the fire season increased by about 2 months (Westerling et al., 2006).

The report discussed how fires affect carbon in the atmosphere:

Bushfires generate many feedbacks to the climate system, some of which can increase warming, while others decrease it. Emission of CO2 from bushfires generally represents a redistribution of existing carbon in the active carbon cycle from vegetation to the atmosphere.

As long as the vegetation is allowed to recover after a fire, it can reabsorb a very large fraction of the carbon released.  By contrast, the burning of fossil fuels represents additional carbon inserted into the active land-atmosphere-ocean carbon cycle.

Increasing fire danger will make it more difficult to find times when planned prescribed fires are within the established prescriptions, which could result in fewer acres treated and higher fuel loads near wildland urban interfaces.

Gary Morgan quote

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

3 thoughts on “Report concludes climate change will require the number of wildland firefighters in Australia to double by 2030”

  1. It’s interesting how the age of forest fuels has increased along with climate change, but climate change gets the credit for the increase in fires. Without fuel, no matter how hot and dry and windy the climate, there will be no fires. And we have always had hot, dry, and windy weather. Perhaps the increasing fuel load results in increasing area burned.
    And politicians can’t control climate, can they?
    If climate change is the issue, then sit back and watch. Everything will burn and fires will decrease.
    To suggest that doubling the fire force will matter – well, what have we learned over the past 110 years? As we increased mechanized equipment, aircraft, and training, the area burned has increased.
    Australia has a predominately volunteer wildland force while the US has paid wildland firefighters. And the difference in outcome?
    We need to learn work with old Ma Nature!

  2. No Dick

    But there some in the LMA world that think THE only professional WFF types come from the Federal world. Paid or unpaid …..volunteer or otherwise that step up into this type of work…….how many in the US would do it the same way as the Australians?

    As the Federal work force ages and seeing the “Succession Study” from 2-3 yrs ago and today’s ever careful USFS world of aviation and CRM……it seems there is an increasingly numbers of folks not going into the “profession.”

    That joke of Age 37-57 established by Congress and OPM is a prime example of a retirement program that needs a reset. Many of these issues have been already explained by some of the higher level of S and I courses folks attend later in their careers and NEVER show up on a fire……look at some of the training of upper echelon LMA types that take Aviation training, probably just to take training to get out of the office.

    Love to return to The Feds, someday, but maybe the LMA’s are showing that we are on our way of doing the Aussie way…….because of the way we have spent our way the last twenty to thirty years ……… may just be the way the big LMA’s can survive

  3. It’s interesting that the authors of this Report have chosen to use the term “professional” when describing future needs? The Australian bushfire forces are, by a large majority, made up of unpaid volunteers supported by a small paid staff of day-to-day managers. New South Wales, for example, has about 70,000 volunteers supported by about 1,000 paid staff.
    I’ve been fortunate to meet and work with the fire folks in the States of Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales as well as in the Australian Capital Territory around Canberra: the Volunteers are totally professional and capable, giving of their free time to protect their neighbors (just like much of the US volunteer fire forces). They are qualified up to the Incident Controller levels, and have come here to the US on several occasions to support us during PL5 fire situations.
    Hope that folks don’t equate “paid” with “professional” in the fire world, either in Australia or in the US.


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