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DFES secures large air tanker after ‘second hottest year on record’ to bring more bushfires

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Caleb RuncimanThe West Australian
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Fire crews are bracing for an increased autumn bushfire risk.
Camera IconFire crews are bracing for an increased autumn bushfire risk. Credit: Supplied

Firefighters have temporarily secured a large air tanker, with a hot and dry summer increasing the risk of dangerous bushfires through autumn.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services says parts of WA’s South West experienced the “second hottest year on record” last year and will enter autumn with the landscape drier than usual.

The next three months are forecast to bring even more hot and dry conditions, opening up a higher possibility of bushfire, according to the Australasian Fire Authorities Council’s latest seasonal bushfire outlook.

DFES says parts of the West Kimberley are also drier than usual, reducing the opportunity for prescribed burns.

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The large air tanker will stay in WA until March 27, while several helicopters will be made available to firefighters until April.

Emergency services have responded to 3757 bushfires since October, including the Wanneroo blazes that destroyed 18 homes.

It comes as DFES Deputy Commissioner Craig Waters revealed almost half of all fires throughout the State have been classed as suspected arson.

“The stats on deliberately lit fires hasn’t really changed much in the last 10 or 15 years, it hovers around 40 to 45 per cent mark around suspicious deliberate fires,” Mr Waters said.

“What has occurred this year, with WA Police’s Strike Force Vulcan, they have had a number of prosecutions in relation to deliberately fighting fires.”

DFES says that the rate of bushfires had increased by 33 per cent compared to the 2022-2023 bushfire season — when 2816 bushfires were recorded October and February 24, 2023.

More than 30 bushfires have been classed as an emergency since October, including the Parkerville, Cockburn and Bibra Lake fires.

Mr Waters added that soil moisture levels this bushfire season have been low compared to the five-year average.

“We’ve seen now for probably in the last three or four fire seasons, not only an increase in the number of fires that are occurring but also an increase in the intensity and ferocity of the fires are actually developing.”

DFES Commissioner Darren Klemm said it was alarming that only 1.5 per cent of the community had prepared a bushfire plan considering most of the State is at risk.

“The most severe heat may be gone, but the bushfire risk hasn’t. We have also extended our ’Got 15 minutes to burn?’ advertising campaign into autumn because we want to see every Western Australian household well prepared with a plan so they can stay safe in an emergency,” he said.

“It is critical that every household has their bushfire plan ready that outlines key decisions for your family including when you will leave, where you will go and what to take.

“There are still only 1.5 per cent of households with a recorded bushfire plan compared to 93 per cent of the State that is bushfire prone.

“It only takes 15 minutes to make those lifesaving decisions using the My Bushfire Plan app or website.”

DFES says 19,376 bushfire plans have been completed while 39,450 have not been finished.

Mr Klemm thanked thousands of firefighters who have helped respond to 3757 incidents during the “long” and “challenging” bushfire season since October.

“DFES’ aerial fleet has flown more than 1640 hours across 152 incidents, dropping 12,262,946 litres of water and retardant on firegrounds,” he said.

“Recent fires in Kwinana, Gwelup and Bibra Lake have been a timely reminder that bushfires do occur in suburban area.”

In November, 18-year-old volunteer firefighter Harry Stead died while fighting a fire in Esperance.

It is understood he fell from a private firefighting vehicle.

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