Perth weather: Christmas heatwave prompts fire warning

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Sarah StegerThe West Australian
A fire weather warning has been issued for parts of WA as residents across the State brace for a record-breaking heatwave.
Camera IconA fire weather warning has been issued for parts of WA as residents across the State brace for a record-breaking heatwave. Credit: Paul Kane/Getty Images

A fire weather warning has been issued for parts of WA as residents across the State brace for a record-breaking festive season heatwave — and a potential tropical cyclone.

The scorchingly hot conditions are expected to hit Perth on Friday — the first of a string of extremely hot days forecast for areas as far north as Shark Bay down to about Walpole this Christmas.

The Bureau of Meteorology has warned residents along that large west coast strip that the mercury will top 39C on Christmas Eve, 42C on Christmas Day and Boxing Day and 40C on Monday.

It will be the hottest three-day Christmas period since records began more than 100 years ago, overtaking the previous record from 2007 when the average temperature across those three days was 40.3C.

WA BoM manager James Ashley said the record temperatures would not be limited to Perth, however, with record temperatures expected across locations throughout WA between Shark Bay and Walpole.

“Significantly, even places like Margaret River, Pemberton, Bridgetown — the places that generally are a bit cooler than further north — those places will get close to 40C across this period as well,” he said.

Extreme and severe heatwave conditions in WA over the next three days.
Camera IconExtreme and severe heatwave conditions in WA over the next three days. Credit: Bureau of Meteorology

Mr Ashley said the heatwave conditions were driven by a “high pressure ridge moving into the bight”, “pushing the west coast trough offshore and maintaining an easterly flow right across the western half of a state.

He said the offshore winds would “drag” the very hot temperatures across western parts of the State, meaning West Australians would not have the relief they normally associated with the sea breeze.

“Those easterly winds will pull those hot temperatures from inland past WA right to the west coast,” Mr Ashley said on Thursday afternoon.

“We’re expecting maximum temperatures of 42C across both Christmas Day and Boxing Day for Perth and remaining around 40C into Monday.

“It’s not really until Tuesday (38C) or Wednesday (35C) that we see an easing of the temperatures near the west coast.”

Minimum temperatures over the three-day heatwave, which authorities say has the potential to turn into a string of four consecutive days above 40C, are also expected to remain higher than normal.

In the Perth metropolitan area, particularly on the nights of December 25 and 26, temperatures will remain in the mid 20s.

“It’s this combined heat load of both the minimum temperatures being really high and very hot daytime conditions which produce heat wave conditions across this large part of WA,” Mr Ashley said.

Adding to bushfire fears during the extreme-level heatwave in Perth, and the severe-level heatwave in other areas along the strip from Shark Bay to Walpole, are the gusty easterly winds around the Perth Hills and the south west of the State over the Christmas weekend.

“We’re expecting very high to severe fire danger ratings,” Mr Ashley said.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 02: Fire crews control bush fires as they approach properties on Copley Road in Upper Swan on February 02, 2021 in Perth, Australia. The Rapid Damage assessment team have identified 56 homes have been lost to the blaze and the number is expected to rise as they work through the area,  as firefighters continue to work to bring the Wooroloo bushfire under control, with more than 7,300ha burnt in challenging conditions in the Perth hills area. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
Camera IconGusty easterly winds around the Perth Hills and in the South West during the heatwave is adding to concerns. Credit: Paul Kane/Getty Images

In the East Pilbara Coast and West Pilbara Coast regions, a combination of very hot and dry conditions and fresh and gusty south-east to north-east winds has triggered an extreme fire danger warning.

The dangerous situation is also forecast in the Gascoyne, Inland Central West, Interior, East Pilbara Inland, Ashburton Inland, Coastal Central West-North and Mortlock fire districts, where a severe fire danger warning has been issued.

Heatwaves and bushfires aren’t the only threats WA is facing this Christmas, however.

The weather bureau is currently tracking a tropical system in the Timor Sea, which has the potential to develop into a tropical cyclone — triggering a flood risk for the far northern parts of the Kimberley.

Mr Ashley said there was a “small chance” that system would form into a cyclone and affect the far northern parts of the Kimberley and the top end of the Northern Territory from Sunday and into the early part of next week.

“We’re closely monitoring the situation. As it stands, there’s a chance we could go into issuing Watches and Warnings across the Christmas weekend,” he said.

“(But) regardless of reaching tropical cyclone status, it will play a large role in flood risk across the top end and the northern part of the Kimberley.

“So people in those areas really need to keep an eye on where that system’s going, and the associated rainfall. We know it doesn’t need to be a tropical cyclone to create a lot of flooding issues.”

Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm said there had been a significant amount of preparation over the last few days to prepare for the extreme weather and potential tropical cyclone.

In addition to ensuring their aerial fleet is ready to go, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services has also brought in a large air tanker from New South Wales, which is already on standby.

“It also has seen us identify a number of strike teams and ensuring that we’ve got personnel ready to respond across the state not just in the metropolitan area,” Mr Klemm said.

“There are strike teams identified in various locations made up of both volunteer and career firefighters to be able to respond to bushfires as early as we possibly can to keep ensuring that we’re keeping these bushfires as small as we possibly can.”

He said the forecast weather conditions did present “significant challenges from a fire-weather point of view”, but also some challenges around the health and wellbeing of first responders and called on everyone to “play their role”.

“Total fire bans are likely to be placed in certain parts of the south west of the State. Certainly total fire bans today (Thursday),” he said. “They generally get decided around about 4pm each day for the next day.

“So people need to monitor Emergency WA to make sure they’re aware of what total fire bans may be in the area that they’re going to be in on any particular day.

“That’s an important role that everybody’s got to play to make sure that we’re keeping the number of fires that start to as small a number as we possibly can.”

During a total fire ban infringements apply for using a barbecue, pizza oven or spit-style rotisserie which burns solid fuel in open air. This includes wood fire ovens or stoves, and kettle barbecues.

Undercover areas such as patios, pergolas and huts which are open or partially open to the weather are deemed to be in the open air.

What you CAN’T do during a total fire ban:

  • Use a barbecue, pizza oven or spit-style rotisserie which burns solid fuel
  • Use a lawnmower that requires fuel
  • Have a campfire, bonfire or light a fire for warmth
  • Light a fire in your backyard
  • Use an angle grinder, welder, charring, soldering or gas cutting tool
  • Drive a vehicle where the vehicle will be in contact with vegetation

What you CAN do during a total fire ban:

  • Use a gas or electrical barbecue
  • Use electrical or battery operated tools, including a lawnmower
  • Barbecue in park (if it is electrical or gas)

For a full list of what you can and can’t do during a total fire ban, including exemptions, visit the DFES website.

Those caught breaching a fire ban could face an infringement of $1000 by police, local government or the DFES, and upon conviction, could receive a fine of $25000 and/ or be jailed for 12 months.

Total fire bans are announced the day prior, depending on weather conditions and updated on the Emergency WA website.

The last total fire ban in the metro area was on Tuesday December 7, when it reached 34C, followed by 38.8C on Wednesday.

Breaches can reported by the public to the Total Fire Ban Hotline on 1800 709 355.

PERTH FORECAST

THURSDAY: 35C

CHRISTMAS EVE: 39C

CHRISTMAS DAY: 42C

BOXING DAY: 42C

MONDAY: 40C

TUESDAY: 38C

WEDNESDAY: 35C

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