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Australia’s Northern Territory Faces Fire Threat

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Authorities are warning that 80% of Australia’s Northern Territory could burn from bush fires by early next year in a once-in-a-decade event. Blazes have torn through both the tropical north and Central Australia over the past week. One expert says Australia must start considering using fire shelters that mimic the burrows used by native animals.

In 2011, vast areas of the Northern Territory were lost to fire, and authorities fear the next seven months could be as bad. They are concerned about the buildup of fuel – living and dead vegetation – after prolonged rains.

Bushfires NT, an official agency, has issued a warning to several communities. Various bush, scrub and grass fires were reported Friday.

Bush fires can occur at any time of the year, but the peak of activity varies across Australia. Outbreaks are generally worse in northern regions during the dry season, while parts of the southeast are more vulnerable in the summer and autumn.

“What makes Australia so flammable is it has got a[n] evolutionary history that has resulted in very oily, dry plants that are very flammable,” said David Bowman, a professor of pyro geography and fire science at the University of Tasmania.

Bowman said he believes Australia needs more front-line defenses to protect vulnerable communities from fires.

He said fire shelters, or bunkers that mimic the burrows of native marsupials, must be part of Australia’s emergency plans.

“They are underground, they have a window, so you have situational awareness,” he said. “They have a hatch and they have enough oxygen. They are certified, they are rated, if you will, like a lifeboat. You know, the testimonials of people who own them is that suddenly they have peace of mind should a fire come. If you think about it, it is a form of biomimicry. It is just like wombats will go down their burrows, well, the humans can go into their bunkers.”

Experts believe that eastern and southern regions that were left untouched by the Black Summer disaster in 2019-20 face a high risk of severe fires in the months ahead, especially if an El Nino weather pattern brings Australia hot and dry conditions.

2023 has already been a catastrophic year for wildfires. Hawaii has witnessed the deadliest wildfires in the United States in more than 100 years.

Canada is also enduring its worst wildfire season on record.  Fires on Friday continue to bear down on the northern Canadian city of Yellowknife, prompting evacuation orders.

Fires have also caused widespread devastation in Greece, Spain and Portugal.

Research from Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO, has confirmed the link between climate change and worsening fires across the continent.