Conditions in NSW are drier now than in the lead-up to the devastating 2013 bushfire season

William West/ AFP/ Getty Images

New South Wales has been experiencing exceptionally dry weather conditions this year.

In fact, numerous records have been set for both lack of rainfall and high temperatures — and it’s not even summer yet.

Such a combination is a concerning sign for firefighters, who predict this upcoming bushfire season has early indicators of being potentially deadly.

“The biggest difference leading into this fire season compared to the last few fire seasons is… how dry it’s been,” Ben Shepard, inspector, acting media manager of NSW Rural Fire Service told Business Insider.

“In some areas we haven’t seen significant rainfall since early June, in other areas it may be even as far back as March. Now, July was one of the driest months on record, and same with September.

“Then what we actually saw with September is some records being broken even with heat as well. That lead to some increased fire dangers on a number of days throughout September.”

But the most worrying sign for the firies is the dryness, which acts as fuel for a fire.

“Moving into the season as we know it, or the statutory bush fire danger period, the biggest underlying factor in all this is that dryness, and that soil, and fuel dryness,” Shepard said.

“Because we will start to see over the coming weeks more warm and hot days, and possibly that coupled with some windy weather. So it doesn’t bode well leading into a bush fire season with that underlying moisture deficiency across the landscape.”

According to Shepard, the conditions are worse now than they were before the devastating 2013 bushfires, which killed two people, and ripped through 118,000 hectares of land.

Lyndon Dunlop stands by his father as they inspect the damage to his grandparent’s home of 41 years destroyed by bushfire on October 21, 2013 in Winmalee, Australia. Photo: Lisa Maree Williams/ Getty Images

“We are drier for the time of year than we were leading into the 2013 season, where we saw significant fire activity through October,” he said.

“Unfortunately you know, we even saw on one particular day over 200 homes lost in as little as two hours in the Blue Mountains. So we’re drier than we were leading into that season, and there have been some comparisons also to perhaps the seasons in ’01-’02 and ’02-’03. Just with that significant dryness that’s right across the State.

Already there has been work for the RFS, putting out blazes from the South Coast “all the way up to places like Ballina”, said Shepard.

“To give, I guess, some comparison, we’ve seen at least double the amount of activity than we saw last year, and even tripled from the year before… and some of these fires have been burning for, in some cases, a number of weeks.

“There were some even since the beginning of the actual season more than 5,000 fires, already since July 1 across New South Wales.

“So look, it has been a busy period and until such time as well that we get significant rainfall across the State, the possibility of more fires is very real.”

The Southern Australia Seasonal Bushfire Outlook shows the most at risk areas for 2017. Source: Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC

“The area of most concern is… the forested areas right up and down the coast. Then also stretching a little bit inland, up through places towards like Moree, up through the North-West of the State,” he said.

“The rest of the state, while there is still a potential, it’s those forested areas that we’ve seen be incredibly dry, and that’s why there’s in some aspects what we call a higher potential. But what we don’t want anyone to think, if they aren’t in that area, that therefore they’re not at risk because we know that in any given season fires can start in the landscape, especially if the areas are dry enough, and the fuels are dry enough.”

Although with many factors still at play, Shepard said things could change.

“It will still ultimately be determined by the weather patterns over the coming months, but as I said when you have that moisture deficiency, when the fuels are already dry in the landscape, and we need significant rain to basically tip that back the other way.

“With no real forecast of that occurring, the potential is there, but as I said we still need those other elements to come together with the hot and windy days, to drive up those fire danger rating.”

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