Intense #Bushfire hits Surf Coast Christmas Day forcing evacuations – @takvera #vicfires


We are already getting a taste of the future with climate change with record temperatures in December, extreme bushfire alerts, and intense bushfires like the Separation Creek and Wye River bushfire causing town evacuations on the Surf Coast near Melbourne.

On Christmas day BOM Tasmania reported in a tweet “A sweltering 36 degrees in #Hobart today – the hottest Christmas Day on record! Cool change early tomorrow”. Temperatures in Adelaide reached 37 degrees, the hottest Christmas Day in 29 years, just short of the temperature of 37.3°C reached in 1986.

In Victoria the Great Ocean Road was closed and settlements evacuated due to a major bushfire out of control on Christmas Day along Separation Creek and Wye Valley. Wye River, Allenvale, Kennett River, Grey River were all affected.

It has now been confirmed by Premier Andrews on Boxing Day afternoon that 85 homes had been lost at Wye River and a further 18 at Separation Creek, bringing the total so far to 103, according to 9 News.

These settlements have holiday houses which are very popular at this time of the year. One of the people affected is former Premier Steve Bracks. He planned to spend some time at his holiday house at Wye River, but this has now been disrupted. “It’s our favourite part of the world and we’re waiting to see what it looks like as soon as we can,” he said according to The Age. “It’s very difficult. We’re just like everyone else, waiting.”

Tom Jacobs from Separation Creek told the Geelong Advertiser, “We were about to have lunch and then we saw smoke behind the property,” Jacobs said. “The smoke kept on coming up bigger and bigger and then it turned into a war zone with four choppers bombing directly overheard. It had all been perfectly fine and then it went dark and it was like volcano skies,” he said.

A cool change with rain moved through overnight. Initially houses in Lorne were thought to be in danger as the wind changed direction with the cool change, that might push the fire towards the town. Evacuation warnings were issued for the small coastal settlements and for Lorne.

By Friday evening CFA were saying that 60 homes had been destroyed in the two settlements of Separation Creek and Wye River. The town of Lorne was evacuated due to the threat from ember attack.

While Australia signed on to the Paris Agreement at the UN climate conference to keep temperatures well below 2 degrees and aspire to limit warming to the 1.5 degrees level, Australian climate targets and action to reduce emissions falls well below an acceptable level and contribution to international action. In fact, the latest National Greenhouse Gas Inventory Update to June 2015 released on Christmas eve shows that for the 2014-15 year emissions increased by 1.3 per cent, but our emissions from electricity increased by 3 per cent. This is a reversal of direction in total emissions trend from the previous year.

David Reid has provided detail in a storify article on this bushfire:

Watch the 12 minute Boxing Day media conference with Premier Daniel Andrews and Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley. No lives were lost in the fire.

“This is not a fire that will go away. This fire will remain with potential to burn in January and February next year. The forecast for a long dry hot summer is there. The fact we have had rain today across the state will not change the long term outcomes, it is short term relief about fire conditions.” Lapsley said.

“If we move back into very hot weather, particularly in Northern Victoria on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, at this stage the forecast hasn’t got strong winds, but we move into another drying period, and we will see fire conditions come back into this state in January and February unless we have soaking rains.”

Climate policy out of step with mitigating bushfire threat

A number of people, myself included, highlighted that the Lorne bushfire exists in a climate changed world and the Federal Government climate policy is out of step with mitigating climate change and the long term bushfire threat.

Some background on bushfires and climate change

The Climate Council published a report in December 2014 titled ‘Be Prepared: Climate Change and the Victorian Bushfire Threat‘ by Lesley Hughes. This report highlighted a number of links between climate and bushfires. These include:

  • that Climate change is increasing the risk of bushfires in Victoria and lengthening the fire season.
  • Victoria is the state most affected by bushfires and is on the frontline of increasing bushfire risk.
  • Recent severe fires in Victoria have been influenced by record hot, dry conditions.
  • In Victoria the economic cost of bushfires, including loss of life, livelihoods, property damage and emergency services responses, is very high.
  • In the future, Victoria is very likely to experience an increased number of days with extreme fire danger. Communities, emergency services and health services across Victoria must prepare.

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