Climate change brings less rain with more dry lightning and wildfires to Tasmania

wildfires in Tasmania satellite photo
Satellite photo of smoke from wildfires in Tasmania, January 21, 2019. The red dots represent heat detected by the satellite. NASA & Wildfire Today.

Climate change has already brought alarming change to Tasmania, the huge island south of the Australian mainland. Until recently it was assumed that the climate differences would not be massive since it was thought by some that the ocean surrounding the island would not be heating as quickly as it was in other areas.

Now the southwest area of the state, the heart of its world heritage area, is being described as dying — the rainforest and heathlands are beginning to disappear. The nearby seas, it turns out, are warming at two to three times the global rate.

Richard Flanagan writes about this issue in an opinion article at The Guardian. Below is an excerpt:

…Then there was the startlingly new phenomenon of widespread dry lightning storms. Almost unknown in Tasmania until this century they had increased exponentially since 2000, leading to a greatly increased rate of fire in a rapidly drying south-west. Compounding all this, winds were also growing in duration, further drying the environment and fuelling the fires’ spread and ferocity.

Such a future would see these fires destroy Tasmania’s globally unique rainforests and mesmerizing alpine heathlands. Unlike mainland eucalyptus forest these ecosystems do not regenerate after fire: they would vanish forever. Tasmania’s world heritage area was our Great Barrier Reef, and, like the Great Barrier Reef, it seemed doomed by climate change.

Later [Prof Peter] Davies [an eminent water scientist] took me on a research trip into a remote part of the south-west to show me the deeply upsetting sight of an area that was once peatland and forest and was now, after repeated burning, wet gravel. The news was hard to comprehend – the enemies of Tasmania’s wild lands had always had local addresses: the Hydro Electricity Commission, Gunns, various tourism ventures. They could be named and they could be fought, and, in some cases, beaten.

Six weeks ago, the future that Davies and others had been predicting arrived in Tasmania. Lightning strikes ignited what would become known as the Gell River fire in the island’s south-west. In later weeks more lightning strikes led to more fires, every major one of which is still burning.

Update on the wildfires in Tasmania

Numerous bushfires are burning in the island state south of the Australia mainland

satellite photo tasmania wildfires
Satellite photo showing smoke streaming from the wildfires in Tasmania, January 29, 2019. The red dots represent heat. Click to enlarge.

Firefighters in Tasmania has been battling large bushfires for the last month and conditions are not improving. Several large air tankers and helicopters from the Australian mainland, as well as firefighters, have flown across the Bass Strait to provide assistance.

Below are excerpts from an article from ABC Australia published at about 6 a.m. PST US January 30:

Communities in the Central Plateau also remain on high alert with gusty winds pushing flames towards properties.

More than 500 firefighters are battling nearly 1,500 kilometres of fire fronts across Tasmania but the main fire fight is in the Huon Valley, south of Hobart.

The Tasmania Fire Service said the Huon Highway near Geeveston was expected to be impacted by fire tonight, with the possibility that communities further south could be cut off for an extended period of time.

Firefighters from NSW, Queensland, and New Zealand sent to assist with wildfires in Tasmania

wildfires in Tasmania satellite photo
Satellite photo of smoke from wildfires in Tasmania, January 21, 2019. The red dots represent heat detected by the satellite. NASA & Wildfire Today.

Wildfires that have been burning for weeks in Tasmania, the southernmost state in Australia, continue to spread and affect properties and air quality on the island. Some of the blazes in the central part of the state are burning in deep-seated organic soil, peat, and are likely to keep burning through the Australian summer.

Below is an excerpt from Radio New Zealand:

The fires have been burning since late December, in the Gell River area, after a heatwave and a period of lightning strikes and high winds. The fires were burning across 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) of mountainous terrain.

Haze from bushfire smoke is blanketing several Tasmanian towns, with hot and dry conditions across the state and more than 30 blazes already burning setting the scene for a nervous few days.

South of Hobart, air quality monitoring data measured smoke particles at 8.00am as being at elevated levels, with Geeveston at 35 times that of Hobart. Residents living in the Huon Valley, where smoke from the bushfire at Gell River has filled the sky, posted on social media that many had not seen conditions as bad, with some mentioning 1967 as the only year which came close – the year of Tasmania’s worst fire disaster.

On Facebook, George Henry Ross asked locals if they had ever seen so much smoke haze around the valley.

“I can’t remember a summer like it,” he said, with many agreeing.

Eric Bat said he had been chatting with a bloke who did remember a summer like it: 1967.

“We rather hoped things have improved since then.”

Reinforcements are being sent to Tasmania from New South Wales, Queensland, and New Zealand.

At least two large air tankers from the Australian mainland are helping out.

And personnel, as well…

Firefighters from NSW assist with Tasmania bushfire

Gell River Fire Tasmania
Gell River Fire. Photo by Andrew MacDonald

Firefighters in New South Wales have traveled across the Bass Strait to assist their brothers and sisters in Tasmania. The five personnel will be working with the Tasmania Fire Service, specifically on the Gell River Fire in the southwest part of the state. The deployment of five arrived Sunday to assume specialist aviation roles operating out of Hobart and Strathgordon.

Map Gell River Fire in Tasmania, Australia
Map showing the location of the Gell River Fire in Tasmania, Australia.

The Gell River Fire has burned 50,600 acres (20,500 ha) primarily in Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. Portions of the fire are burning in peat, which means the deep-seated blaze will likely persist for months and continue to produce smoke.

Below is an update on the fire from the Tasmania Fire Service:

The fire continues to burn in buttongrass and mixed forest vegetation in the Vale of Rasselas, approximately 10 kilometres northwest of Tim Shea and along the Denison Range and Gordon Range. A sprinkler line around the northern side of Lake Rhona was successful in protecting fire-sensitive vegetation communities. Fire fighters and aerial water-bombing also managed to protect these vegetation communities in other areas. Specialist remote area fire fighters are working in rugged terrain to extinguish the fire. Although the fire is still uncontained, suppression operations conducted by fire fighters and water bombing aircraft have been successful to date, with many active fire edges minimised. An increase in smoke may be visible in the Greater Hobart area, Derwent Valley and Huon Valley on Tuesday evening and Wednesday due to increased fire activity, particularly at the southern end of the fire. Resources currently deployed to the Gell River bushfire include 60 personnel and eight aircraft. Tasmania Fire Service
This image of smoke from the Gell River Fire was captured by a satellite on January 4, 2019. Since then the activity has decreased due to a change in the weather. The red dots indicate heat detected by the satellite.
Gell River Fire Tasmania helicopter
Photo by Andrew MacDonald
Gell River Fire Tasmania helicopter
Photo by Andrew MacDonald
Gell River Fire Tasmania
Gell River Fire. Photo by Andrew MacDonald
This image of smoke from the Gell River Fire was captured by a satellite on January 4, 2019. Since then the activity has decreased due to a change in the weather. The red dots indicate heat detected by the satellite.

Large wildfire in Tasmania sends smoke into Hobart

The fire near Gell River has burned over 37,000 acres

A large wildfire that started in the Gell River area in the Australian state of Tasmania has burned more than 37,000 acres (15,000 Ha) mostly in the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. The fire is approaching Lake Rhona and Gordon River and has sent embers into Mount Field National Park. The blaze was burning button grass but has moved into timber and peat areas, which could result in it persisting for months.

Dense smoke that spread toward the southeast heavily impacted Hobart as you can see in this satellite photo.

Tasmania Fire Gell River
Wildfire in southwest Tasmania that started near Gell River, currently burning in Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. The red dots indicate heat detected by the satellite. Photo, January 4, 2018.

Paul Black of the Parks and Wildlife Service said, “We’ll be considering further retardant drops, back-burning operations, a lot of water bombing, and hot and cold trailing of the active edge of the fire.”

Clouds and cooler weather moved in and slowed the spread of the fire on January 4.

smoke Hobart Tasmania Fire Gell River
Wildfire smoke from the Gell River Fire impacts Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. Photo by Olivia Hicks.

Bushfires continue to burn in Tasmania

At least 26 bushfires are being fought by firefighters in Tasmania.

Photo above: Backburning near Arthur River in northwest Tasmania, January 29, 2016. Photo by W. Frey.

Bushfires that have been raging across northwest Tasmania for several weeks are still causing great concern in the island state south of Australia.

One of the fires in the Central Plateau has burned about 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) in the World Heritage Area, about 1.2 percent of the WHA. Unique alpine flora such as pencil pines, king billy pines and cushion plants — some more than 1,000 years old — have been destroyed.

World Heritage site burned Tasmania
A burned area at a World Heritage site in Tasmania. Photo by Dan Broun.

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service has sent many of their wildland firefighters across the Bass Strait to assist their neighbors in Tasmania.

NSW RFS firefighters Tasmania
The New South Wales Rural Fire Service has sent a great deal of aid to assist with the fires in Tasmania. In these photos equipment is arriving to set up a camp capable of sleeping 150 firefighters at Moles Creek. Next week more firefighters and fire engines will be mobilized to Tasmania. NWS RFS photos.

Three air tankers from North America that have been working in Australia during their summer bushfire season have also been deployed, including a DC-10, Avro RJ85, and a C-130. This may be the first time these large aerial firefighting resources have been used in Tasmania. The Fire Service felt it was necessary to warn the residents to “not be alarmed” when they saw the air tankers “flying a bit low over the coast”. More information about the air tankers in Tasmania is at Fire Aviation.

DC-10 air tanker Tasmania
A DC-10 air tanker being used to fight wildfires in Tasmania. Photo by Tasmania Fire Service.

Most of the most active bushfires are in the northwest part of Tasmania. Three of the largest are in these areas:

  • Arthur River and Nelson Bay. 21,000 hectares (52,000 acres).
  • Pipeland Road. 62,000 hectares (153,000 acres).
  • Lake Mackenzie Road. 25,000 hectares (68,000 acres).

Another fire in the southwest part of the state has burned 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) between Lake Gordon and Lake Pedder.

At least 26 bushfires are still active while 48 others have been contained.

Below are maps showing the locations of the fires, and more photos.

Continue reading “Bushfires continue to burn in Tasmania”