Australia’s most populous state has closed out its quietest fire season in a decade, its fire service said, as the coolest and wettest summer in years offered a reprieve from the uncontrolled blazes that torched large swathes of the country in 2019 and 2020.
The current bushfire season has seen half the number of callouts in New South Wales state, at 5,500, as the previous season, the NSW Rural Fire Service said on Wednesday. This season, just 31,000 hectares (76,600 acres) of land burned across the state, compared to 5.5 million hectares (13.6 million acres) during last season’s Black Summer wildfires.
The less hazardous fire conditions were underpinned by a La Nina weather pattern, which saw Australia registering its wettest weather in four years and its coolest in nine – though it also had the downside of causing massive floods in parts of the country’s east coast.
“Today marks the official end to the quietest fire season in more than a decade, a welcome and stark contrast to last year,” the RFS said in a social media post.
Fires this year blackened nearly half of the World Heritage listed Fraser Island, home to the world’s only tropical forest that grows on sand, off the country’s northeast coast. In Western Australia state, fires burned more than 70 homes.
Australia’s climate has warmed by around 1.4°C (about 34.5°F) since 1910, while southern Australia has seen a reduction of 10-20% in cool season rainfall between April and October in recent decades, according to the country’s Bureau of Meteorology.
Australia’s last wildfire season began in June 2019, and continued through the following spring. The fires killed at least 33 people, including nine firefighters, and destroyed more than 3,000 homes nationwide, according to the Australian Parliament. More than a billion animals are estimated to have died, with many species pushed close to extinction.
In March, Australians on the east coast have been inundated with rain and the worst floods in more than half a century, with tens of thousands of people evacuated. Numerous regions were declared natural disaster areas, with authorities warning NSW was reaching a “breaking point.”
“Communities who were battered by the bushfires are now being battered by the floods and a deep drought prior to that. I don’t know anytime in our state’s history where we’ve had these extreme weather conditions in such quick succession in the middle of a pandemic,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said last month.
Authorities this week began recovery efforts as water levels receded.