Queensland and NSW bushfires: cooler weather brings hope for reprieve to 130 blazes | Australia news

The New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, will travel to bushfire-affected towns on the state’s north on Wednesday, as authorities there and in Queensland hope milder conditions offer a reprieve from the more than 130 bushfires burning across the two states.

On Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, more than 5,000 people have been forced from their home with no timeline for return due to an out-of-control fire at Peregian Beach and Peregian Breeze Estate.

One property was destroyed after the fire swept through the coastal towns on Monday night. Queensland’s acting premier, Jackie Trad, said it was “nothing short of a miracle” more homes weren’t lost in the fire.

On Wednesday the fire remained out of control, and 40 homes were evacuated from the town Weyba Downs on Tuesday, inland from Peregian, as winds picked up.

Resident Robert Campbell, who has yet to see his home following the fire, was stopped by authorities while returning from dinner on Monday night and told to flee.

“It’s surreal, I won’t know the damage until we find out,” Campbell said.

Dark smoke billows from a bushfire near Peregian Beach on the Sunshine Coast on Tuesday.

Smoke billows from a bushfire near Peregian Beach on the Sunshine Coast on Tuesday. Photograph: Dan Peled/AAP

Almost 80 fires continued to burn across the state. Blazes have destroying 33,000 hectares of bushland since late last week.

A 737 aircraft dumped 15,000 litres of fire suppressant on the Sunshine Coast blaze on Tuesday, helping to ease the inferno.

Does climate change cause bushfires?

The link between rising greenhouse gas emissions and increased bushfire risk is complex but, according to major science agencies, clear. Climate change does not create bushfires, but it can and does make them worse. A number of factors contribute to bushfire risk, including temperature, fuel load, dryness, wind speed and humidity. 

What other effects do carbon emissions have?

Dry fuel load – the amount of forest and scrub available to burn – has been linked to rising emissions. Under the right conditions, carbon dioxide acts as a kind of fertiliser that increases plant growth. 

So is climate change making everything dryer?

Dryness is more complicated. Complex computer models have not found a consistent climate change signal linked to rising CO2 in the decline in rain that has produced the current eastern Australian drought. But higher temperatures accelerate evaporation. They also extend the growing season for vegetation in many regions, leading to greater transpiration (the process by which water is drawn from the soil and evaporated from plant leaves and flowers). The result is that soils, vegetation and the air may be drier than they would have been with the same amount of rainfall in the past.

What do recent weather patterns show?

The year coming into the 2019-20 summer has been unusually warm and dry for large parts of Australia. Above average temperatures now occur most years and 2019 has been the fifth driest start to the year on record, and the driest since 1970.

Photograph: Regi Varghese/AAP

Authorities hoped milder conditions expected on Wednesday would give further reprieve to exhausted firefighters.

The number of people in emergency evacuation centres had fallen from 400 to about 80 on Wednesday morning, and the Bureau of Meteorology expected cooler temperatures and lighter winds on Wednesday and Thursday would be favourable for firefighters.

“Given that the weather conditions have moderated today, given that it’s a much better day to get in and do some work to enable people to go back home, I think that today is going to be a lot better,” Trad told the ABC on Wednesday.

However the danger was expected to spike again on Friday and Saturday when temperatures rose.

The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, cut short a trip to Europe to return home but was criticised by the state’s opposition for leaving for the trip on the weekend when fires were beginning to flare up.

But Trad defended Palaszczuk, saying she had been unable to cancel the meeting, which was in relation to the state’s 2032 Olympics bid.

“It was, unfortunately, out of her realm of authority,” she told the ABC.

The Queensland Fire and Emergency Services said at least 17 homes and five commercial properties had been destroyed by bushfires since Thursday, with many more damaged.

In NSW, Berejiklian will travel to Glen Innes and Tenterfield in the state’s north to inspect the fire grounds. More than 100,000 hectares of bushland in NSW have been destroyed across three fires near Tenterfield, Armidale and Yamba.

The Clarence Valley mayor Jim Simmons said he couldn’t remember the area surrounding Yamba being so dry and described conditions as “really terrible”.

“We haven’t seen anything like this in my lifetime,” he said.

As of Tuesday, nine homes and 34 outbuildings had been destroyed in NSW and another six homes damaged, with most of the losses occurring at the fire near Tenterfield.

More than 220 homes in the immediate areas of the fires have been saved since the emergency began late last week.

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