2019's Fire Season Is Already NSW's Worst -- And It's Barely Begun
Firefighters warned us of "unprecedented" bushfire danger -- and now we've got the scary statistics to back that up.
Fires are still raging across the country, a week after NSW sweated through potentially the worst fire danger day on record. Four people were tragically killed, and hundreds of homes and buildings were destroyed, as firefighters battled blazes across the entire length of the state.
More than 150,000 hectares of land has burnt and dozens of homes have been destroyed in Queensland in recent weeks. A dozen homes are thought to have been lost in fires roaring across South Australia. Victoria is currently sweltering through 40 degree temperatures and the highest fire danger of 'code red', while Tasmania is facing its highest fire danger of the year.
The NSW Rural Fire Service warned two weeks ago it was facing "unprecedented" fire conditions. Now, new statistics provided to 10 daily show that wasn't hyperbole.
The RFS has revealed that as of November 19 -- just 50 days into the statutory bushfire season, starting October 1 each year -- there were more than 600 homes destroyed, including 503 in just the past two weeks, with six people killed and more than 1.6 million hectares of land burnt.
As of Tuesday, in addition to the 1.6 million hectares burnt, another 1.3 million hectares was still on fire across the state. RFS teams are still assessing the devastated areas, meaning the total area burnt could end up well over three million hectares.
The RFS told 10 daily that already -- before summer even starts -- the 2019/20 bushfire season could be the worst on record in NSW, with those spring statistics from the first 50 days alone eclipsing damage wrought by fires in entire years in the past.
An RFS spokesperson said the area burnt so far in 2019 was more than the previous three seasons combined -- "and it's not even into summer yet".
The fire service couldn't immediately share detailed breakdowns for every single year on record. However, statistics of "seasons with prominent area burnt or houses lost" provided to 10 daily showed 2019 outstripped damage and devastation wrought in some of the biggest years on record, back to 1993-94.
In 2013-14, the season of the infamous Blue Mountains fires, 118,000 hectares burnt in NSW and 248 homes were lost, while two people were killed.
In 2002-03, there was 1.4 million hectares burnt and 62 homes lost.
"So far, it's been a very early and active start to the season," the RFS spokesperson said.
"Fires can happen any time, but the way we've seen fires being active is much earlier than normal."
NSW RFS deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said on November 8 that the situation fire fighters were facing was "unprecedented", with -- at the time -- 15 fires burning at emergency levels.
The following week, 'catastrophic' fire conditions were declared for the Greater Sydney area, the first time that classification had been used for the region. The NSW government declared a week-long state of emergency due to the fires.
Emergency warnings remain in Victoria, South Australia and Queensland, while Tasmanian authorities are hoping conditions don't worsen in the state.
It comes as two peak medical bodies -- the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine -- both declare climate change to be a medical and health emergency, warning of the health impacts of fire and smoke.
"Increasing frequency and intensity of bushfires is one of the consequences of climate change that has long been warned about by our science agencies," the RACP said in a statement on Thursday..
"The sheer extent of the current fires has led to hazardous levels of air pollution that is adversely impacting on the health of people in affected areas including two of our biggest cities."
The ACEM warned of "an immediate need for [hospital emergency departments] to be resourced in order to meet increased demand resulting from climate change", as its president, Dr John Bonning, said "the evidence is clear".
"Projections show that climate change will cause a significant rise in the number of overall ED presentations, an increase in the complexity of presentations as well as surges resulting from climate disasters," he said in a statement.
"For the good of our patients, hospitals, communities and world, we must take urgent action on this population health emergency."