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Early start expected for East Gippsland fire season

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East Gippsland’s fire season could start early for a third straight year due to persistent dry conditions, the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre’s (CRC) latest outlook says.

The region has missed out on above-average rainfall experienced across large parts of Victoria through autumn and has areas of unburnt vegetation that are particularly at risk, the report says.

“If this drying trend continues in East Gippsland, it is possible that fires in the scale of 1000 hectares may develop under prolonged warm and windy conditions in late winter or early spring,” the July-September outlook says.

The CRC says climate influences for Australia this year are “very different” to those that led to the extreme dry conditions ahead of the last bushfire season, and the Bureau of Meteorology has issued a watch for a La Nina system, which generally brings a greater chance of wet weather.

“While the outlook is favouring good rainfall for the coming months, recent low rainfall in May and June mean a close watch will be kept on where the rainfall does and does not fall leading into the 2020/21 southern fire season,” the report says.

The NSW south coast currently has higher-than-normal fire risk for this time of year due to dryness in areas that did not burn last summer. But rainfall is expected this month, while the possible La Nina could increase the chance of wet conditions across the state.

“Should a significant rain event, which has been forecast for mid-July, affect the south coast, this is likely to decrease the fire potential for the outlook period,” the report says.

“In spite of dry conditions, normal fire potential is expected for the northern ranges and far north coast due to an increased chance of above-median rainfall in these areas.”

Northern Australia has entered its dry season, and northern WA, the NT and Queensland are now either in their high-risk fire period or set to enter their most hazardous months.

In WA, rainfall from cyclones has led to above-normal fire conditions in parts of the Kimberley, while the NT fire season has started early, but normal potential is expected.

Normal fire potential is forecast for Queensland over the next few months, but grass fires are a particualr risk due to good growth in some areas.