Victoria is facing the combined threat of floods and fast-moving grass fires this summer, with above-average rainfall raising the risk of both.
After an often damp and chilly spring, the Bureau of Meteorology declared a La Nina weather pattern this week, which forecasters say will mean a summer that is wetter and cooler than average.
Parts of the state are facing more floods following heavy rain this year. Traralgon Creek burst its banks in June. Credit:Blake Bourne
But the latest seasonal bushfire outlook from the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) showed grass and crop fires loomed as a major concern, particularly deeper into summer after successive days of hot, dry and windy conditions.
Sustained rainfall in recent months has caused increased grass growth, which can quickly dry out to become a fire hazard. But more rain is expected to fall in coming weeks, bringing a greater risk of flooding in areas that have already experienced much wet weather.
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said the state’s east faced the greatest risk of flooding, particularly areas near the Mitchell and Avon rivers.
“The catchments are well and truly saturated,” he said.
Parts of East Gippsland – including Bairnsdale, which sits on the Mitchell – experienced flooding earlier this month, while the Traralgon Creek burst its banks and flooded into homes following wild storms in June.
The seasonal bushfire outlook showed there is a low likelihood of large-scale forest fires because of the underlying moisture and the vast areas that were burnt out by the Black Summer fires in 2019-20.
“Higher than normal rainfall in recent months has, however, led to above normal pasture growth across paddocks and roadsides for much of the state, which is likely to increase the grass fire risk throughout the summer period,” the report said.
Mr Crisp said fires were already a risk in some parts of the state.
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp. Credit:Scott McNaughton
“We’ve already had our first total fire ban for the season. That was in the Mallee two weeks ago,” he said.
Mr Crisp said it was important for residents in fire-prone areas to be prepared well in advance, noting many people moved from Melbourne to regional Victoria during the pandemic and may be facing their first fire season.
“If you put your plan in place when you’re starting to see the smoke or flames, you’ve left it far too late,” he said.
Concerns over crop fires also loom in the far west and north-west of the state. Wet weather may delay harvesting in some areas, leaving fields vulnerable to fire later in the season when they dry out.
The Bureau of Meteorology declared a La Nina pattern this week. Credit:Nick Moir
AFAC national projects and innovation director Rob Webb said fire remained a risk across Victoria despite the La Nina weather pattern.
“It might be wet outside the window today, but there’s still that risk as the heat of summer kicks in,” he said.
Mr Webb said long grass could dry out quickly and provide fuel for a fire, despite months of above-average rain beforehand.
The AFAC outlook forecast average summer rainfall for most of Victoria, with warmer than average conditions in the state’s west but cooler temperatures in the east. It said shorter duration fires were still likely to occur in drier forests, including woodlands and heath areas.
The La Nina pattern is expected to extend into early next year. Victoria experienced a La Nina event in 2010 that brought widespread flooding and heavy rain after years of prolonged and widespread drought.
It also increased the incidence of mosquito-borne viruses with 1092 cases of Ross River Virus were detected in Victoria between January and April 2011 and 151 cases of Barmah Forest Virus.
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