Australia’s blistering heat wave began in December and has only intensified since then. So far the country has had record runs of hot days and its hottest night ever recorded. Now, catastrophic bush fires have turned the Tasmanian sky red and conditions are expected to become more calamitous later this week.
The Tasmania Fire Service has been battling dozens of blazes across the state over the weekend and into the start of the week. The largest fire is burning near Lake Echo and nearing 100,000 acres in size. Numerous other fires and challenging conditions have stretched the fire agency thin.
“The fire danger rating exceeded forecast conditions today, with some areas reaching ‘severe,’” the agency wrote in a press release on Monday.
The southern half of the state has been particularly hard-hit where fires have burned parts of Southwest National Park that’s listed as a World Heritage Area by UNESCO. Fire have also crept into local towns, and there are unconfirmed reports that structures have been lost to the flames according to the Australian. The fire service said that it has enlisted help from the state of New South Wales, which has sent a 737 air tanker to drop flame retardant on the fires in the Huon Valley.
Flames are within 20 miles of the state capital of Hobart, according to fire service maps, and the fire service is expecting hot, dry conditions over the next two days. The agency announced there would be a complete burn ban for the southern part of the state and a partial ban in the north. It also warned residents to review or create a bush fire survival plan, underscoring how dangerous conditions could become.
Temperatures in Hobart will reach 31 degrees Celsius (88 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology. That’s more than 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal for this time of year. Nights will be warmer than normal as well, which means fires won’t die down as much as they could.
Those temperatures are fairly mild compared to the suffering in other parts of Australia where triple digit temperatures have been the norm. Tasmania is much milder than the rest of the country, though. Owing to its small size, its climate is heavily moderated by cooler ocean winds. But the anomalous warmth is having the same impact as it would.
Like everywhere else on the planet, climate change is altering the equation and leading to hotter conditions and increasing the odds of more destructive fires. Tasmania saw unprecedented bush fires in 2016 through the same World Heritage Area burning this time around. As temperatures rise even further, previously unburned areas could become more flammable and with that, resources will be stretched ever thinner.