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Smoke in the air as Australia’s fire crews prepare for the return of El Niño


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Last week, people living around Darwin and Brisbane could see and smell the smoke in the air. It’s an experience that will be mirrored across the country in the coming weeks as fire authorities and land managers carry out hundreds of controlled burns.

Climate change has already lengthened Australia’s fire seasons, with higher temperatures driving an increase in riskier fire weather.

And with the landscape full of fuel after three wet La Niña summers, the risk of severe bushfires may rise if the predicted El Niño is realised, bringing hot and dry conditions.

“It’s uncharted territory if we get a big El Niño,” says Greg Mullins, the former New South Wales fire commissioner. The three years of wet weather has also meant three years of reduced hazard reduction burning, he says.

Mullins was volunteering as a deputy incident controller for a planned hazard reduction burn last week across 400 hectares of Ku-ring-gai Chase national park, north of Sydney.

Hazard reduction burns can take place in forest understorey, grasslands and savannahs. Land managers and fire authorities…

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