Climate change raised risk of extreme wildfires in Australia by 30%, researchers say

March 4 (UPI) — Climate change has led to a 30 percent increase in the chance of an extreme wildfire season in southeastern Australia like the one that that burned some 46 million acres over the past several months.

Scientists partnered with the World Weather Attribution organization used a Fire Weather Index to create a computer model to determine the fire risk of southeastern Australia since 1900. They compared historic weather conditions, including temperatures, droughts and fire intensity over the decades.

The researchers found that the risk in the 2019-20 season was 30 percent higher than 120 years prior. The Fire Weather Index noted a “significant trend towards higher weather risk since 1979,” the World Weather Attribution report said.

“We can attribute part of this trend to climate change,” the scientists said.

The research also noted an increase in overall temperatures — about 1 to 2 degrees Celsius higher during this past year’s heatwave compared to one at the beginning of the 20th century. Such a heatwave is about 10 percent more likely to happen now than it would have around 1900.

Australia’s 2019-20 wildfire season burned about 21 percent of the country’s temperate forests. Scientists at Western Sydney University’s Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment determined last month that the fires were unprecedented in size.

When researchers surveyed historical records for evidence of comparable wildfire seasons — not just in Australia, but across the globe. They found nothing approaching the scope of Australia’s devastation.

The blazes killed at least 34 people, an estimated 1 billion animals and more than 5,900 structures.

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