A new study has laid out just the severity of the Black Summer forest fires in 2019 and 2020, also revealing that forest fires in Australia are burning more land across more of the year than ever before.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) conducted the study and discovered some sobering statistics. They found that the infamous Black Summer forest fires burned more than 24 million hectares of land, directly causing 33 deaths and almost 450 more from smoke inhalation.
Many doubted at the time that the 2019 and 2020 fires were on par with the 1939 Black Friday fires in Victoria but CSIRO’s analysis confirmed that the Black Summer fires are part of a clear trend of worsening fire weather and ever-increasing forest areas being burned.
Their study found that the annual area burned by fire across the country’s forests has been increasing by around 48,000 hectares each year over the last three decades. For comparison, after five years, that would equate to about the size of the entire ACT (235,000 hectares).
Other noticed trends include the consistency of forest fires, with three out of four extreme forest fires since states started keeping records 90 years ago occurring since 2002. The study also found that the fire season is growing, moving from spring and summer into autumn and winter.
Comparing the satellite records from 1988-2001 to the period from 2002-2018, the annual average fire area increased by 350%, a huge rise; if the Black Summer fires are included, that figure rises even further to 800%.
Before 2002, there was just one megafire year in the 90 years Australian states have been keeping records – and that was 1939. Since 2001 though, there have been three megafire years, defined as a year in which more than one million hectares burn, a startling rise.
CSIRO’s study was based on satellite and ground-based estimates of burnt forest area, and also observed trends of nine wildfire risk factors and indices relating to characteristics of fuel loads, fire weather, extreme fire behaviour, and ignition.
You can view the full CSIRO study here. As they conclude, “we need to be ready for more Black Summers – and worse.”