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The Bushfire Royal Commission – Scientists Say Black Summer Was Not Worst Ever

The Bushfire Royal Commission opened on Monday. The enquiry is examining the disaster that resulted in the loss of 33 lives and more than 3,000 houses. The first evidence was given by scientists. The Bureau of Meteorology told the Commission that the bushfire summer played out exactly as forecast by it.

A senior scientist at the Bureau Dr Karl Braganza gave evidence to the commission that a mix of climate drivers in the past few years led to an extended dry period, hotter-than-average temperatures and reduced humidity, particularly over the south-eastern states.

"We were getting strong indications of our seasonal drivers … that we were going to favour hotter and drier conditions," he said.

"Unfortunately, the conditions turned out to be very severe.”

Contrary to the opinions of some commentators Dr Braganza said the conditions next summer were likely to be milder thanks to wetter conditions at the start of this year.

The CSIRO gave evidence about the longer-term prospects for bushfires. Dr Helen Cleugh told the Commission climate change was interacting with, and exacerbating, previous weather systems in a way never seen before.

"This means that understanding the interaction between climate variability and these drivers and climate change is very important for building preparedness for the changing nature of climate risks into the future," she said.

Dr Cleugh said that if global emissions were reduced that would ameliorate the risk of future fires. However, she said that some of the heightened risks were now locked in.

"Depending on the extreme events, there are elements of some of these [that] are locked in because of emissions we've already had," she said.

The ABC has reported that according to data provided to the commission by Risk Frontiers, a risk management and catastrophe modelling company, the total area of bushland burned during the Black Summer fires across Victoria and New South Wales was the largest in 19 years.

Risk Frontiers' Ryan Crompton said New South Wales was the hardest-hit state.

"This is particularly so in New South Wales where the area that was burnt was more than three times larger than any other season," Dr Crompton said.

Risk Frontiers also analysed the people who had died during the bushfires to identify who was most at risk.

Dr Crompton said it noted "the disproportionately high rates amongst professional volunteer firefighters", as well as "males aged 60 and over trying to save their own property with pre-existing health conditions, males aged 55 and over attempting their own evacuation and males and females aged 55 and over in their own house."

The Commission is yet to examine the plight of individuals who have lost their houses and are still suffering from the consequences. The Chairman, Mark Binskin, made a statement at the beginning of proceedings that emphasized the fact that these people were not forgotten notwithstanding the COVID 19 crisis.

Given that the Eden-Monaro by-election, which will have the bushfire recovery as its main theme, will take place on July 4, this is likely to be true for the next five weeks at least.

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