Welcome to El Niño

this coming summer?

Meteorologists say it could be weeks or maybe a month or two, but an El Niño in 2023 is still the most likely scenario – hotter temperatures, reduced rainfall in the east and north of Australia and the heighten the risk of heatwaves, drought and bushfires.

An alleged pile burn  that maintained its intensity, as seen in the photograph, for several hours. When it was allowed to die-down, it was not extinguished but continued to burn overnight, unattended - still smouldering the following morning, again unattended, until after 2pm in the afternoon, when it was finally extinguished.

23 August 2023



IT’S still not officially summer [but a warm spring is just around the corner], and already on the Central Coast the Rural Fire Services (RFS) app on my mobile phone never stops dinging. Most of the warnings are for grassfires , which this coming fire season may well be on a scale never before experienced – combined with a new analysis warning, spring and summer 2023-24 could see a widespread fire risk “supercharged” by the climate crisis. Fuel loads that have increased after heavy rain are now drying out and creating ‘powder keg’ conditions for future fires.


Grassfires, while generally less intense than bush fires, can be just as dangerous. They can move up to three times faster than a bushfire and can catch people out with their speed.


Firefighters fear that grass fires occurring in hot, dry and windy conditions worsened by climate change could unfold on a scale never before experienced, potentially overwhelming emergency services at times, and placing communities at great risk.


Greg Mullins, an international expert in responding to major bushfires and natural disasters, warned Australia was in "unchartered territory" with El Nino this fire season.


Mr Mullins said while he did not expect fires at the intensity seen during Black Summer, he warned "we're set for a bad year".


“It's getting drier and drier," he said.


"I'm not a betting man, but if I were a betting man, I'd say we're going to get big fires this year...we will have days, perhaps a number of days in a row periodically, where we lose homes.”


To compound the problem, you have the lunatic fringe – the arrogant ‘dim wits’, whose middle name is pyromaniac [the accidental ‘torchers’] – who derive a perverse pleasure in lighting an ‘alleged pit fire’ two or three times a week [52 weeks of the year], because the regulations allow them to do so. The problem is that the regulations don’t adequately define what a pit fire is, so ‘lunatic pyro’ has a fire blazing, eyes glazed with joy, happy in the knowledge that the regulations have been manipulated, as flames, and sadly in many cases sparks, danced upward into the sky – a disaster waiting to happen.

An alleged 'pit fire' in February 2023, during the bushfire season. You can see the shadow of a person to the right of the fire and that the the flames are about the same height.

Then we also have the habitual rural pile burner, whose land is bare as baby’s ‘backside’ but insists that he needs a legitimate excuse for a fire. Since, there is insufficient wood to be burned – it has to be fallen dead timber from a tree – the requisite material for the fire is imported from off-site but the RFS are told it’s a legitimate pile burn, so nobody checks to validate the would-be arsonist’s claim. Flames leap metres into the air for several hours to the ritual chants and screams of the gathered participants, the sky blood red as neighbouring properties are fearful, remembering not so long ago the devastation of the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires.


Is El Niño on the way?


Although the Bureau of Meteorology is yet to officially declare an El Nino event, the Bureau has confirmed that there is a 70 per cent chance the weather phenomenon could develop. Scientists from the Climate Council anticipate if it does advance it could be "the strongest El Nino ever measured, by far".


Alarmingly, Australia's average temperature has increased on average by 1.44 ± 0.24 °C since national records began in 1910. Since 1950, every decade has been warmer than the decade before. So, parts of Queensland and NSW, including the Central Coast, Victoria and South Australia that were left untouched by the 2019-2020 disaster are at even higher risk this season. And even though Greg Mullins does not expect the intensity experienced in the Black Summer bushfires, many experts now say that not enough has been done to prevent another similar event in Australia this coming bushfire season.


So, where does this leave the Central Coast in the coming bushfire season scenario?


Earlier in August, the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) said only about 24 per cent of planned hazard reduction burns had been done across the state during 2022/23 because of inclement weather. And although it is too early to predict the severity of the upcoming fire season, communities need to be on high alert.


The 2019-20 bushfire season saw unprecedented destruction on the Central Coast – Mangrove Mountain was ablaze, the suburb of Blue Haven lost one home and a number of others were badly fire damaged, and fire came too close to the RFS Headquarters at Charmhaven.


As a community, Coasties need to be really listening to the rural fire services and the fire and rescue services as well, and they need to be getting themselves prepared. But we need to do more – we must minimise the future risk of bushfire.


Fueled by climate change!


Our governments have not reduced our emissions quickly enough to make us confident that we're going to meet the 1.5 degrees target set by the United Nations, nor have we have not included climate change in our environmental laws in Australia.


It doesn't take a Rhodes scholar to realise that climate change is impacting the likelihood and severity of bushfires through a number of factors.


  • Hotter conditions can lead to a longer fire season, while high temperatures and dry vegetation can increase the risk of fires.


  • Warmer weather can also increase the likelihood of lightning, which can be a key factor in starting fires.


When it comes to regulating emissions and reducing climate damage Australia has wasted so much time.


If the state governments are serious about the climate change problem, why do they still approve coal mines and gas exploration?


Health impacts of bushfires.


The acute effects on the individual of smoke inhalation from bushfires typically lead to a surge in people presenting to emergency departments with asthma attacks, exacerbations of chronic bronchitis and emphysema (COPD), eye and skin irritations and also with cardiac conditions as a result of the strain on the whole circulatory system.


There are also concerns about the long-term effects of acute episodes of smoke inhalation. Fires release multiple pollutants including carbon dioxide and monoxide and chemicals such as benzene that produce deleterious effects on the environment. However, air quality experts are most concerned about the tiny particles, referred to as PM2.5. These are fine particles that are 2.5 microns or less in diameter (less than the diameter of a human hair) and can travel deep into the respiratory tract, reaching the lungs and entering the bloodstream.


According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2020, an increase in these tiny particles is associated with a higher risk from all medical causes for up to four days after a population is exposed. The findings of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) risk assessment focused on the increase in all-cause mortality, mortality due to ischemic heart disease, and mortality due to lung cancer: “exposure to increased levels of PM2.5 is also causally linked to numerous other adverse health outcomes, including long- and short-term cardiovascular events, respiratory illnesses, death from cancers other than lung cancer, and nervous system diseases, including dementia. Additional health concerns, such as adverse pregnancy and birth outcomes, are associated with particulate air pollution, though the evidence of causality is weaker”.


What can you do as an individual?


So, until we start driving emissions down and until we stop approving coal and gas exploration and developments, we are going to have to live with climate-fueled murder of our planet. Everybody has to be enlisted in the fight if we are going to stop the extreme and disastrous climate events – it’s as simple as that.


And if you witness an alleged ‘alleged pit fire’ pyromaniac lighting up the sky this bushfire season, report them to Triple Zero before it’s too late!

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