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Bushfire warning as temperatures set to soar across NSW

Australians are being told to brace for the “first burst of summer heat” this week amid a reprieve in the wet weather but its fuelling fresh warnings of a fire risk.

Dry conditions are predicted for most of NSW, with temperatures set to soar from Wednesday as a low-pressure trough and front pressure system from Australia’s north moves across the state.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) warned of very hot conditions in the northwest of the state and along the borders with Queensland and Victoria, where temperatures could hit 40 degrees on Saturday.

“Hot conditions this weekend will be the first burst of summer heat most of the NSW has seen since last summer,” BoM Manager NSW & ACT, Agata Imielska, told Yahoo News.

Sun through dark smoke clouds from bush fire with red glow, climate change in Australia. Source: Getty Images
After a wetter-than-normal start to summer, Australia will swelter through the first burst of heat, increasing the fire risk in some areas. Source: Getty Images (Getty Images)

Soaring fire risk after summer soaking

It follows months of wet and wild downpours across the east coast due to a La Nina event.

Many towns along the NSW South Coast have already recorded their December monthly average rainfall including Bega, Moruya Heads, Cooma, and Ulladulla after last week's deluge.

Rear view of smart causal male holding umbrella and walking along the park in rainy urban city.
The Bureau of Meteorology has declared a La Niña, a weather event associated with wet conditions. Source: Getty Images (Getty Images)

It means there is plenty of lush grass around, increasing the fire risk as it dries out and cures.

The last seasonal bushfire outlook showed an increased risk for grass fires in the east.

“Warm conditions will also lead to elevated fire dangers, particularly across the Riverina on Saturday. Fire Weather Warnings are possible and may also lead to harvest alerts,” Ms Imielska warned.

The seasonal bushfire outlook for Spring 2021 shows an increased risk for grassfires in the east. Source: AFAC
The seasonal bushfire outlook for Spring 2021 showed an increased risk for grassfires in the east. Source: AFAC

NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Inspector Ben Shepherd said the conditions are being monitored closely.

“Most of the risks at this point on the forecast are for areas west of the divide, so western parts of the state,” he told Yahoo News.

“This appears to be the first of a number of days of warmer weather and the grassland will start to cure and dry off and become fire prone.”

However, he added there doesn’t seem to be any high winds predicted at this stage.

“While there is definitely some increased heat, there aren't strong winds in the forecast but it may change.”

And with the hot blast coinciding with the first weekend of the NSW/QLD border reopening, Ms Imielska also raised concerns about the risk of heat stress for travellers stuck in queued traffic.

There is also the threat of severe thunderstorms across NSW this weekend.

How new technology could prevent another Black Summer

The increased fire risk comes as Australia’s national science agency CSIRO and the RFS have revealed a new high-tech tool in their arsenal, helping to save lives and property in an emergency.

It’s being described as “Australia’s most advanced model” for predicting the speed and behaviour of eucalypt forest fires.

The Vesta Mark 2 model, a mathematical description of how a fire responds to environmental conditions, will be rolled out nationally this summer.

It will allow fire control rooms to foresee and suppress bushfires as they spread across the landscape.

A red neck Wallaby sheltering near burnt out bushland near Cobargo, Thursday, January 16, 2020. Source: AAP
A red neck Wallaby sheltering near burnt out bushland near Cobargo during the 2019/20 bushfires. Source: AAP (AAPIMAGE)

Some of Australia’s most extreme and deadly fire events, such as the 2009 Black Saturday fires and the most severe of the 2019-20 bushfires, occurred in eucalypt vegetation which makes up more than 70 per cent of the country’s forests.

“Forest fires are complex and difficult to control and extinguish. Firefighters often have to battle steep terrain and challenging conditions just to reach the fire,” CSIRO bushfire behaviour researcher Dr Andrew Sullivan said.

“Critically, this model can accurately predict the speed that a fire front will advance across a landscape, which is essential to enable authorities to efficiently identify threats, issue bushfire warning messages, signal evacuations, and plan fire suppression actions."

Data inputs such as forecast weather and wind information come from the Bureau of Meteorology, while information on the state of fuels within the forest and existing behaviour of a fire can come from vegetation databases and fireground reports.

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