Bushfires, dry lightning, rapid sparks and spreading all point to climate change, southern fire chief says

It was early Friday afternoon when Great Southern District DFES Superintendent Wayne Green took a phone call about a small fire started by lightning near Hopetoun on the south coast of Western Australia.

“By all accounts, all the comments and information at that time were that they were ending and getting around the issue,” he said.

DFES Superintendent for the Great Southern, Wayne Green.(ABC Great Southern: Kyle Pauletto)

Superintendent Green said the blaze had become “utter chaos” for volunteers trying to protect the town.

This fire and 13 others were started by severe thunderstorms that hit the region after temperatures exceeded 44 degrees Celsius in some areas.

Hot and dry conditions, lightning and gusty winds were a perfect cocktail for disastrous fire conditions.

At least three houses were lost in the bushfires in Jerramungup and Hopetoun on Friday.

These fires were two of three emergency bushfires burning in the area, along with another further north near Newdegate.

burnt house
One of many houses destroyed by a bushfire in Hopetoun on Friday. (Facebook: Tamunoibifiri Ibinabobo)

A week of destructive fires

It came a week after a major bushfire ripped through another area of ​​Superintendent Green’s district, bushland and farmland near the tourist town of Denmark further west on the south coast.

That blaze destroyed four homes and was followed by two more destructive bushfires in Bridgetown and Corrigin a day later, extending firefighting resources to the southern half of the state.

Friday’s fires were started by lightning, with the Bureau of Meteorology recording tens of thousands of strikes in the area.

Superintendent Green said the bushfires were exacerbated by climate change.

“We have seen the change in our fire behavior over the past few years.”

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Superintendent Green said Friday’s bushfires started and spread quickly.

“At its peak we had 14 fires and trying to get information on 14 different fires, all in a short period of time, is next to impossible,” he said.

“The thing about these [fires] was their proximity to the city. We’ve certainly had this volume of fires across the landscape before…but it’s the location of these fires that has strained local resources.”

Superintendent Green congratulated the volunteer firefighters of Jerramungup and Hopetoun.

“Seeing their towns engulfed in fire, bringing their community together in one place and keeping them safe, reassured, and then giving us the right information we need, reassures us.

Smoke rises near Hopetoun.
At least two houses were destroyed in the Hopetoun fire on Friday.(Provided: Brady Wilson)

Abnormal storm leaves traces of destruction

The storm that started the series of fires on Friday produced wind gusts of over 100 km/h, damaging property in Hopetoun.

Ravensthorpe County Chairman Keith Dunlop said authorities were still assessing the damage.

The roof is not where it should be
The entire roof was blown off the McLeods’ property near Hopetoun. (Provided: Ian and Michelle McLeod)

Ian and Michelle McLeod’s property lost its roof in a damaging gust of wind.

Mr. McLeod compared the storm to a cyclone.

“I’ve been in a category 5 cyclone up north, that’s how it was,” he said.

“It was like a train had passed over our house…then the whole roof lifted off and went away. It was scary.”

Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Luke Huntington said a trough triggered the thunderstorms on Friday afternoon as temperatures topped 44 degrees.

Mr Huntington said the intense thunderstorms had created thousands of lightning strikes.

Several online fundraising pages have been launched for those who have suffered property damage.

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Robert M. Larson