Increased risk of grassfires in Victoria following a wet winter and spring forecast

26 August 2021
Australian Seasonal Bushfire Outlook

The latest weather data shows parts of Victoria are forecast to have a wet spring. This is predicted to lead to continued strong grass growth and the potential of increased grassfire conditions once the vegetation dries out.

Released today, the quarterly national Seasonal Bushfire Outlook for September to November, was developed by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC), the Bureau of Meteorology and state fire services agencies. AFAC is the national council for fire and emergency services.

The Outlook shows this year’s average to above average rainfall across much of Victoria is likely to result in continuous grass and crop fuels growth through most areas west and north of the Great Dividing Range.

Across pastures in the southwest fire district, upper and lower soil layers are already saturated meaning the average to above average rainfall forecast for spring will likely lead to normal to above normal pasture growth conditions. As a result, the northwest and west of the state (Wimmera and the Mallee fire districts) may see an increase in fire potential in late spring, prior to harvest.

For many forest areas, conditions are currently normal or wetter than normal. The forecast indicates above-average rainfall during spring, leading to a below average fire risk for summer across the eastern, north-east, central ranges and Otway ranges.

Along the coastal and foothill forests of Gippsland, the monthly rainfall in July was below average. Given spring’s outlook of higher-than-average temperatures and average rainfall along the coast of eastern Victoria, the Gippsland fire season is likely to start in early summer.

However, the bushfire risk will remain lower across fire impacted areas of East Gippsland and north east Victoria as forests recover from the recent fire seasons.

Spring is historically a more challenging time of year for large scale planned burning due to less predictable weather conditions, such as wind. However, the higher moisture levels in forest areas may provide opportunities to carry out planned burning this year. Planned burning works are supported with an increase in mechanical fuel management including slashing and mulching, as well as creating and maintaining fuel breaks to reduce the bushfire risk for communities and the environment.  

Preparations by the emergency management sector for the 2021-2022 spring and summer season will incorporate planning for the risk of fire and extreme weather, with the added complexity of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Emergency Management Victoria will continue to work closely with the emergency services sector to ensure the safety of Victorian communities.

To read the full Seasonal Bushfire Outlook - https://www.afac.com.au/ (External link)

Emergency Management Commissioner, Andrew Crisp:

“The spring outlook gives us an early indication of what Victoria could expect over the summer season and will be updated in November as predictions firm up.”

“New growth resulting from high rainfall raises the potential for grassfires which can move quickly and threaten properties and life.”

“We’re never complacent about the risk of fire and severe weather throughout the year. We treat each season with the same high level of preparation to ensure community safety.”

CFA Chief Officer, Jason Heffernan:

“Like last year, we can expect a grassfire-dominated start to the fire season, particularly in the west and north west, while the risk of campaign bushfires in forested areas is substantially reduced.”

“Victoria is one of the most bushfire-prone areas in the world, and even a normal fire season can present a high risk to communities.”

“I encourage all Victorians to plan and prepare for their safety and ensure that everyone in their household knows what to do on hot, dry, windy days when fires can start and spread quickly.”

Acting Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) Commissioner, Ken Brown:

“No matter where you live, you must be aware of the risk of fire, especially if you live on the urban fringe.”

“If you live near grasslands, you need to understand the risks with fast moving grassfires. If a fire starts in grasslands near your home, walk two streets back and keep clear of responding trucks.”

Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic) Chief Fire Officer, Chris Hardman: 

“Despite a wetter than average winter in some parts of the state, it only takes a few days of extreme weather conditions for the fire risk to rapidly rise.” 

“Thanks to our year-round approach to bushfire risk management, we’re well prepared for bushfire season, but all visitors to our parks and forests have a role to play to reduce the risk.”

“With a greater number of visitors to our parks and forests, it’s crucial the community work with us to prevent bushfires from starting and pay attention to campfire safety. Unattended campfires can spread quickly and have devastating impacts on communities and the environment.”

Victoria State Emergency Service Chief Officer of Operations, Tim Wiebusch:

“This year we’ve seen the effects of La Ninã, with vast rainfalls across parts of the state resulting in flash and riverine flooding.”

“The outlook until the end of spring suggests above average rainfall is likely. Victoria has many areas which are prone to flooding.”

“VICSES Local Flood Guides are now available in over 140 at-risk townships. Visit our website https://www.ses.vic.gov.au/ (External link) to see if your home is at risk and what you can do to prepare.” 

“Remember to never drive through floodwater. It doesn’t take much for your car to become unstable, lose traction or wash away. Driving through flood waters may be the last decision you make.”