Australian bushfires ‘were far worse than any simulation predicted’

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 01: Lawrence and Claire Cowie are pictured as a fast moving fire moves towards their Bumbalong Road, Bredbo North property on February 01, 2020 near Canberra, Australia. ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr declared a State of Emergency on Friday, as the Orroral Valley bushfire continues to burn out of control. Hot and windy weather conditions forecast for the weekend are expected to increase the bushfire threat to homes in the Canberra region. It is the worst bushfire threat for the area since 2003, when four people died and 470 homes were destroyed or damaged. (Photo by Brook Mitchell/Getty Images)
Bushfires devastated Australia this year (Getty)

The bushfires which ravaged Australia this year were far worse than any climate simulation had predicted, researchers have warned.

The fires left 33 people dead, and burned more than 20% of Australia’s forests, research published in Nature Climate Change showed.

Scientists described the devastation as “unprecedented”.

The devastation was “worse than anything our models simulated”, climate scientist Dr Benjamin Sanderson said in an interview with BBC News.

Dr Sanderson warned that as global warming takes hold, such surprise events are likely to become more common, saying that the more the planet warms, “the more likely we are to be taken by surprise”.


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Dr Sanderson called for more detailed simulations, saying: "Rather than running one simulation that looks as close as possible to the real world, we need to start creating thousands of different versions of the future.”

Research showed that the extent of the fires was unprecedented, researchers reported this week.

Lead author Matthias Boer told the Guardian: “The word unprecedented has been used a lot the last two months.

“The data point for this year’s fires show it stands out completely from all other years for Australia or other countries

“There is just nothing like it out there and we felt confident to call it unprecedented.”

BUMBALONG, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 03: A bushfire sweeps up a hillside on February 3, 2020 in Bumbalong, Australia. In many fire affected areas, surviving wildlife are suffering from dehydration and near starvation, due to the widespread habitat destruction and continued drought. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
A bushfire sweeps up a hillside in Bumbalong, New South Wales (Getty)

The bushfires – which lasted from September until torrential rains hit earlier this month – killed 33 people and a billion native animals nationally and also destroyed 2,500 homes and a wilderness area the size of South Korea.

The damage was most devastating in New South Wales state.

Families, firefighters and politicians gathered in a solemn public ceremony in Sydney on Sunday to honour the 25 people killed in recent blazes that tore through the country's most populous state.

Among the 25 people killed were 19 civilians, three local volunteer firefighters and three US firefighters.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, who thanked those who fought the blazes and honoured those who died, spoke of "children kissing the coffins of their fathers" and "mothers who should have never had to bury their children".

He told the public, gathered around lit candles, of "a summer where the dark sky turned black and sunsets only signalled another night of terror, where the fire crashed on our beaches from the bush that surrounded them".

Morrison has drawn public anger for his refusal to directly link the bushfires to climate change, insisting removing flammable vegetation is "just as important, if not more".

His management of the fires also came under criticism over the unusually prolonged summer wildfire season, when he was forced into a rare public apology for taking a holiday to Hawaii.

Last week, he said Australia would conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into the causes of the fires.