According to catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide, late last week, wildfires exacerbated by hot, dry, and windy conditions spread across parts of southern Tasmania. Temperatures of over 41° C (105.8°F) were recorded in the state capital of Hobart last Friday, the city’s hottest day since recordkeeping began in the 1880s.
According to the Tasmania Fire Service, as of 9:30 a.m. (2:30 p.m. UTC) January 7, 2013, thirty-five bushfires are currently active across Tasmania. Six of these blazes have reportedly been contained. Firefighters are still working to control nine more, which have been assigned a “high fire danger” rating.
“Although extremely hot and dry weather continues to ravage most of New South Wales and Victoria, fire conditions have begun to ease across Tasmania, aiding firefighters’ efforts to hold containment lines and control the active blazes,” said Tomas Girnius, senior scientist at AIR Worldwide. “Three bushfires continue to threaten lives and property in Tasmania; specifically, the Montumana bushfire, the Lake Repulse fire (in the Upper Derwent Valley), and an extremely large fire in the Forcett region of the Tasman Peninsula. Although cooler and less windy conditions are forecast for the next few days, local authorities warn that these fires may continue to spread if weather conditions do not remain favorable.”
The three most dangerous bushfires still active in Tasmania are the Montumana fire, the Lake Repulse fire and the Forcett fire. First reported on January 5, 2013, the Montumana fire has burned over 1,000 hectares as of January 7. This fire is currently affecting the Mawbanna region, resulting in multiple road closures. The Tasmania Fire Service warns that the Montumana fire may affect additional communities in the region, including Sisters Beach, Rocky Cape, Hellyer Beach, Detention River, and Crayfish Beach. The much larger Lake Repulse fire, first reported on January 3, has burned nearly 11,000 hectares so far. Located due east of Ellendale, the Lake Repulse fire is expected to affect the communities of Ellendale, Karanja, Westerway, Hamilton, and Ouse. The Forcett fire, which has burned over 22,000 hectares as of January 7, was first reported on January 3. This large bushfire is anticipated to affect several communities between Forcett and the Tasman peninsula with embers, smoke, and falling ash expected throughout the region.
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According to the Tasmania Fire Service, a state-wide total fire ban is currently in effect throughout Tasmania in an effort to prevent new blazes from starting. In addition, cooler temperatures and isolated rain showers are forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday, which are expected to reduce the risk of continued fire spread within Tasmania. However, extremely hot and dry conditions in other parts of Australia, including much of New South Wales and Victoria, continue to pose enhanced bushfire risk.
Girnius commented, “The most destructive of the multiple bushfires to ravage Tasmania over the last several days devastated the township of Dunalley on the Tasman Peninsula. In Dunalley, about 30% of the buildings were destroyed. Other villages near Dunalley also lost between 30 and 40% of residences to the fires. Bushfires burned 40% of structures in the community of Connellys Marsh, and several homes in the Murdunna region north of Port Arthur were also destroyed.”
The worst-affected regions of Tasmania, including areas of Forcett, Dunalley, Copping, Murdunna, and others, have been included in a formal declaration of a bushfire catastrophe by the Insurance Council of Australia.
AIR continues to monitor this event and will provide updates as warranted.