Still on bushfires

Looking out my window at 6pm:


That is looking at Mount Nebo in the foreground, where there are quite a few recently built homes, and beyond that the main escarpment. Behind that the Southern Highlands current fire zone is from 10 to 30 km away. Tomorrow, we are told, is to be “about as bad as it gets”, with temperatures in the high 30s, humidity at 10 per cent and wind gusts of up to 100 kph.

Now I accept the logic by which an outcome of the climate change that is now 95% surely happening is longer and more severe bushfire seasons in our part of the world. That seems as reasonable to me as it does to the UN, and further I really find so-called “scepticism” pretty threadbare Canuteism on behalf of what are essentially “conservative” prejudices about politics and economics, or serving the interests of the industries which most contribute to the anthropogenic component of the problem. Now while I have little enthusiasm for the fig-leaves being applied to the issues by our dispiriting new government, I do not believe that has caused the current bushfires. So it isn’t in any direct way “Mr Abbott’s fault”.  For other reasons I wish the Abbott government was rather more proactive.

The other day, having looked at several lists of major bushfires in Eastern Australia since 1851, I noted:

The most salient issue, to my mind, is WHEN these fires are happening:

Widespread October bushfires in NSW are unusual, but have happened before, such as in 1991. This year there was an Early start to Australian bushfires, record temperatures in early September.

It is now the 7th time this bushfire season a total fire ban has been declared in Sydney. Very Unusual. If the fire weather is this bad so early in the season, it can get worse over the coming months as Summer heats up, especially if we have extreme summer heatwaves similar to 2013.

It remains true that the great majority of serious bushfires over the past 150+ years have occurred between late November and the end of February, so this year is unusual. Unusual but not unprecedented.

Following Jim Belshaw’s Preliminary muse – fires & the urban cocoon and a link there to Trove Tuesday – October Bushfires I add a few of my own, but with a note of disagreement: “this is not unusual for October” is wrong. It is unusual, but is not unprecedented. I should also mention a Facebook conversation I had last night with my cousin Ray Christison, Director of the Mining Museum at Lithgow.

Ray Hampton Christison : I love how the media thinks that spring-early summer bushfires in the Blue Mountains are unusual. Here are some dates of major fires:
1939 Bushfire – 25 December
1957 Bushfire (took out half of Leura) – 30 November
1968 Bushfire – 1 November
1977 Bushfire – 1 December
1982-1983 Grose Valley Fire 15 December
1997 Bushfires – 20 November
2001 Bushfire – 21 December
Short memory.

Neil James Whitfield: And October?

Ray Hampton Christison: It’s late October

Neil James Whitfield: It’s 21 October! Two to three weeks, half a month. I think they have a point, aside from the fact that most severe bushfires have been December to February back at least to 1851

Neil James Whitfield: I meant to say one to two weeks…

Ray Hampton Christison: Understood Neil, but I have lived in this part of the world for 35 years and I get so tired of people pretending to know how it works. My point is not about climate change – it’s about our collective short memory in all things

Neil James Whitfield: Understood also Ray — but there need not be a conflict in fact

Neil James Whitfield: I blame the politicians for creating a conflict…

Ray Hampton Christison: Politicians create conflict – journalists feed it…

Neil James Whitfield: It was part of our Shire background too. I remember my brother fighting fires around Menai and I sure remember National Park fires back to around 1952

Ray Hampton Christison: My first face to face experience with a bushfire was Loftus-Grays Point 1971…

And so on. It turned into rather a nice conversation.

Each of the following is linked to source. In my search I focussed on this region.




I remember those 1951 fires! Our home in Auburn Street Sutherland offered a panoramic view to the south. And more recently:


See also Nick Feik Is it okay to talk about climate change yet? Also part of the mix.

Let’s hope tomorrow sees everyone safe!

Update 10.20 pm

The Illawarra Mercury is saying it is possible parts of Wollongong could be directly impacted tomorrow.

The forecast for the Illawarra is for temperatures in the 30s with gusty westerly winds.

‘‘Should the conditions eventuate that would cause containment to be breached, the fire will travel towards the Illawarra,’’ Rural Fire Service Illawarra zone manager Superintendent Richard Cotterill said.

He said conditions tomorrow would be similar to last Thursday, when the fire travelled up to 11 kilometres in four hours.

‘‘If it were to do the same again, in five or six hours we would see fire at the top of the escarpment in the Illawarra,’’ he said.

See also Defences tested as Wollongong fire threat mounts.

Update 24 October

We have had Tony Abbott being, it appears, certain that the recent – and ongoing – bushfires here in NSW are NOT related to climate change, which seems to me as problematic as being certain that they ARE! As you know, I said above that “I accept the logic by which an outcome of the climate change that is now 95% surely happening is longer and more severe bushfire seasons in our part of the world.” I still find that a perfectly reasonable proposition, and I am not saying that climate change CAUSED the current fires – just that this is the sort of thing that follows from the generally agreed fact of climate change. See UN official ‘talking out of her hat’ on bushfires and climate change, says Tony Abbott. Later Greg Hunt copped some flack for citing Wikipedia.

Interviewed on the BBC’s Newshour program, Mr Hunt cautioned against drawing a link between the ongoing New South Wales fires and climate change.

“I looked up what Wikipedia said for example just to see what the rest of the world thought,” he said.

“And it opens up with the fact that bushfires in Australia are frequently occurring events during the hotter months of the year, large areas of land are ravaged every year by bushfires, and that’s the Australian experience.”

Mr Hunt defended Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s views on climate change after host Razia Iqbal quizzed him on Mr Abbott’s past description of climate change as “absolute crap”….

Well I acknowledge that one of the “several lists of major bushfires in Eastern Australia since 1851” is on Wikipedia, so I guess I can’t mock Greg Hunt too much on that ground. And then there is this sequel:

Ms Figures also told CNN that Australia was “struggling” with how it will meet its international commitments on climate change.

“They are going to have to pay a very high political price and a very high financial price, because the route that they are choosing to get to the same target that the previous government had could be much more expensive for them and for the population,” she said.

After speaking with Mr Hunt, she issued a statement in which she appeared to walk back from her comments.

“Mr Hunt and I discussed his government’s plans to achieve a 5 per cent cut in emissions by 2020 via a suite of measures including an Emissions Reduction Fund,” she said.

“The Government of Australia informed me that they will be on track to achieve that aim, which I wholeheartedly welcome.

“There are several ways in which a meaningful global price on carbon can be achieved, ranging from taxes to market mechanisms, and each country must decide what makes most sense given its national circumstances.

“The new Australian administration has chosen a new pathway towards this goal under its Direct Action Plan. I was pleased to hear from Minister Hunt that the Emission Reduction Fund allied to forestry measures and targets on renewable energy and energy efficiency will deliver their internationally agreed targets in a cost-effective manner,” she said.

I am not so sanguine, but nonetheless it is worth noting.

Meanwhile I do commend Trove as a check on our faulty memories!

For example:

27 houses lost in fires near Wollongong [coming soon]

The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995) Tuesday 29 October 1968 p 1 Article Illustrated

… Faces masked against smoke, volunteers move to a new fire at Unanderra, south of Wollongong. 27 houses lost in fires near Wollongong SYDNEY, Monday. – Twenty – seven homes lie in ashes tonight after the worst bushfires known in the suburbs of Wollongong. The fires were fanned by 50 mph winds and … 235 words



I remember that one, though I was at this time living in Paddington and commuting to St Ives.

The fact remains that a trawl through Trove confirms that October fires are comparatively unusual.

See also: Commissioner Phil Koperberg says NSW has never had such fires in October.

THE unusually early fires that swept through NSW over the past two days would have proved too fast for any warning system, according to former Rural Fire Services commissioner Phil Koperberg.

The former NSW environment minister and current chairman of the State Emergency Management Committee was yesterday appointed Blue Mountains Emergency Recovery Co-ordinator.

He said there had been worse bushfire disasters in the Blue Mountains – in 1952, 1957 and 1968 – but what was unprecedented was it happening in October.

“It’s not the worst, but it is the earliest. We have never had this in October,” Mr Koperberg said. “This is a feature of slowly evolving climate. We have always had fires, but not of this nature, and not at this time of year, and not accompanied by the record-breaking heat we’ve had.”…