“Homes that are specifically designed and built to withstand bushfires are not done so for catastrophic conditions. Catastrophic conditions are where lives are lost, it’s where people die. The risks are absolutely real,” New South Wales Rural Fire Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told CNN affiliate 9 News.
Australia is experiencing one of its worst droughts in decades. The hot, dry weather has created a huge amount of fuel for the fires, which are being fanned by strong winds.
“In catastrophic circumstances, routinely, you can expect the most extraordinary of fire behavior. It is not without question that spotting activity can be well and truly over 20 kilometers (12 miles) ahead of the main fire front,” Fitzsimmons said. Spotting refers to new fires lit by burning embers.
Climate crisis comes front and center
In recent years, bushfires have been occurring more frequently in Australia, starting earlier in the season and spreading with even greater intensity. Experts say the cause is the climate crisis.
The blazes that are currently engulfing the country’s east have focused attention on warnings issued by former senior fire officials earlier this year. They have been calling on the government to do more to combat the effects of climate change.
Mullins said he wrote the piece reluctantly, noting that “some federal politicians dodge the question of the influence of climate change on extreme weather and fires by saying, ‘It’s terrible that this matter is being raised while the fires are still burning.'”
“But if not now, then when?” Mullins asked.
The Morrison government has been accused of not doing enough to address the climate crisis.
On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack lashed out at Australian Greens party members who had linked the fires to climate change.
“I don’t need the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies,” McCormack told ABC Radio National. “What people need now is a little bit of sympathy, understanding and real assistance. They need help, they need shelter.”
Carol Sparks, the mayor of Glen Innes, who was herself evacuated from the path of a fire over the weekend, slammed federal politicians for failing to directly link the fires to the climate crisis.
“It’s climate change, there’s no doubt about it. The whole of the country is going to be affected. We need to take a serious look at our future,” the mayor, who is a member of the Greens party, told the Australian Associated Press.
“Of course it’s not relevant at the moment when people’s houses are burning and you’ve lost lives and you’ve lost friends and you’ve lost family,” Sparks said. Two residents of Glen Innes were killed in the fires.
“But the overall thing is we are so dry in this country — we haven’t had rain for years in some places. We need to look at what we’re going to do about that in the future,” she said.
Morrison says his critics gloss over Australia’s record on combating the climate crisis and claims his government has been effectively balancing the needs of Australia’s economy and “taking real action on climate change.”
“Australia’s internal and global critics on climate change willingly overlook or perhaps ignore our achievements, as the facts simply don’t fit the narrative they wish to project about our contribution,” he said at the United Nations General Assembly last month.