Fire at Umina Beach, NSW Central Coast. (Photo: Daily Telegraph)

Bushfires in August: what’s going on?

“Currently we have more than 70 fires burning across NSW and more than 800 firefighters working to save life, property and other assets,” Shane Fitzsimmons, Commissioner of the state’s Rural Fire Service, posted on his Facebook page earlier this week, adding: “Oh, and it’s still winter!”

As those fires continued to rage today, following the declaration on Wednesday of the earliest total fire ban on record in parts of NSW, experts predicted a horror fire season ahead during summer.

It has been the driest January to July in five decades, with the prolonged period of little or no rainfall – NSW was declared 100 per cent in drought last week – exacerbating the bushfire conditions, along with strong winds this week.

Amid recent bushfires in Europe and California, David Bowman, professor of environmental change biology at the University of Tasmania, told Hatch: “It is very unusual to have a severe fire in southern Australia during winter while the northern hemisphere burns … If the drought doesn’t break, the prospect of a horrible fire season [in NSW] is staring us right in the face. Everyone near bushland needs to start to prepare mentally and materially.”

NSW Rural Fire Service – Active fires

According to the Sydney Morning Herald‘s archives, the previous earliest total fire ban in Sydney was declared on 5 September, 2012, almost three weeks later than the current one.

Assistant Commissioner Ben Shepherd of the NSW Rural Fire Service said on Thursday that 640 firefighters have been deployed, as well as 240 trucks and 40 aircraft.

Firefighters were today conducting backburning operations to protect homes, after blazes from two of the still 28 uncontained fires destroyed two homes and 16 other buildings in south-western NSW.

Weatherzone told Hatch that there was a “windy, dry weekend” ahead, with conditions set to improve by next week. However, the longer-range forecast is for months more of dry weather. – @montana__duncan