Understanding the impacts of climate change on bushfire risk is important, as bushfires affect communities and the environment. Fire, however, is complex. The risk of bushfire in any given place depends on:
- vegetation – there needs to be enough vegetation (fuel)
- dryness - the fuel needs to be dry enough to burn
- weather - the weather needs to be favourable for fire to spread
- ignition source - the fire needs something to start it
For a fire to occur, all four of these conditions must be met. Climate change is expected to impact them in different ways.
Projections of climate change impacts on bushfire risks need to integrate the diverse strands of evidence, including the many interactions and feedbacks between such factors. Research is underway to address such these knowledge gaps.
Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) is collaborating with other government agencies and research institutions to provide updated information on the potential impact of climate change on bushfire. New research is available on:
Bushfire Risk in NSW
The Climate Change Impacts on Bushfire Risk in NSW report provides an overview of literature on possible future changes in fuel amount, fuel moisture, fire weather and ignition and the implications of such changes for bushfire risk in the state.
Several lines of research indicate an increasing bushfire risk in temperate forested areas of NSW. Future risks are less clear for arid grasslands in the NSW interior, with some research suggesting a decrease in fuel load will reduce overall risks despite strong increases in fire weather.
While addressing uncertainties in future projections of bushfire risk remains an active research area, fire managers in NSW need to plan for a range of plausible climate futures and related bushfire risks.
The Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI) is used in NSW to quantify fire weather. FFDI combines observations of temperature, humidity and wind speed with an estimate of the fuel state. Fire weather (or FFDI) was assessed using the NARCliM climate projections for each State Planning Region of NSW and ACT.
The main findings are:
- Average and severe fire weather is projected to increase in NSW in the future.
- Increases in average and severe fire weather are projected to occur mainly in summer and spring, with the largest increases by 2070 to occur in spring.
- Changes are greatest for the west of the state where fire weather increases are projected to occur across all seasons.
- A relatively small change in severe fire weather is projected for coastal regions, the south-east and the Southern Tablelands.
- Increasing fire weather conditions suggest that when fires do occur, they will be harder to control.
Future Research for National Parks
OEH scientists and the National Parks and Wildlife Service are working together to examine the impacts of climate change on the seasonality and frequency of weather conditions suitable for conducting prescribed burns. Contact us at adaptNSW@environment.nsw.gov.au for more information.
Climate Change and Bushfire Risk (PDF 786 KB). Presentation by Prof Ross Bradstock, University of Wollongong.
Living with Fire http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/fire/120690livfire.htm