Skip to content

La Niña’s sweet relief finally arrives at Carnarvon

Richard Geddes (Fire Manager)
Published 04 Mar 2021 by Richard Geddes (Fire Manager)

When people think about bushfires, the temperature of the oceans don’t always spring to mind. But these sea surface temperatures are one of the biggest culprits in driving the large landscape-scale fires that have been occurring across much of Australia in recent years, like the Black Summer bushfires of 2019/2020.

Burning more than 24 million hectares and impacting an estimated 3 billion animals, the Black Summer was Australia’s worst bushfire season in living memory. Rebuilding the communities and ecosystems affected will take many years.

These devastating fires were caused by years of climate change-induced drought conditions in eastern Australia’s forests and woodlands.

However, the underlying drivers were from sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean combined with wind patterns in the Southern Ocean, which fanned strong, dry, westerly winds right throughout spring and summer.

In the case of the Black Summer, the Indian Ocean Dipole (or IOD: the difference in water temperature between the west and east tropical Indian Ocean), was in a positive phase, causing a deep water upwelling of cold water to develop off the north-west coast of Australia and Indonesia. This blocked moisture and rain-bearing clouds from the tropics, priming us for the horrific fire season that unfolded.

(In contrast, when the IOD is in a ‘negative phase’, warm ocean currents spread east across the Indian Ocean, providing more moisture for frontal systems and lows crossing Australia.)

Enter La Niña

I’m pleased to say that it’s been a much kinder fire season over the eastern states of Australia in the last few months.

This is due to the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) being in the La Niña phase. During La Niña, a warm body of water sits off the north-east of Australia, leading to above-average rainfall in many areas of eastern and northern Australia.

What was strange about the Black Summer fires is that catastrophic bushfire seasons are typically associated with ENSO being in the El Niño phase, which results in the forests and woodlands of eastern Australia drying out.

The fact that the Black Summer fires occurred despite the absence of El Niño is cause for concern and many scientists have raised the alarm about the potential risks had an El Niño and positive IOD combined last summer as they regularly have in the past.

Bushfire risk remains

On December 2, 2020, before the La Niña rains set in, lightning struck our Carnarvon Station Reserve on Bidjara country in central Queensland.

A bushfire quickly spread through the area, threatening large parts of our reserve as well as the neighbouring Carnarvon National Park and pastoral stations.

Bush Heritage staff mobilised from across QLD and northern NSW and worked closely with fire crews from Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and the pastoral stations over 12 long days and nights to contain the fire to less than 11,600 hectares or 20% of the reserve.

We managed to stop the bushfire from burning through the important fire-sensitive forest around Fig Tree Spring, home to Canarvon’s famous and majestic White Fig (Ficus virens) tree.

A small crew climbed up the hill with backpack spray units filled with firefighting foam and leaf blowers to put out fires burning in the trees and prevent it spreading in to the spring area.

Sometimes when you stop big old trees like this from burning down, it’s like you can hear the hissing and crackling of the burning wood be silenced by the sweet relief of water and these forest giants living to fight another day.

I could tell from the fluffy juvenile Powerful Owl sheltering in a tree above the spring and staring at me, as well as the Yellow-faced Whipsnake that slithered past my boot that they appreciated our efforts to keep this important ecological refugia unburnt.

Meanwhile further south east, not far from Carnarvon Gorge National Park, a lightning fire that had been burning for weeks was approaching our southern boundary. Our staff worked alongside fire crews from neighbouring Dooloogarah Station to prevent it spreading further north in to our reserve.

Finally, in late December 2020, La Nina arrived properly at Carnarvon and we welcomed the soaking rains originating from the Pacific Ocean to regenerate the landscape once again.
 

In a positive phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole, a deep water upwelling of cold water develops off north west Australia and Indonesia. This blocks moisture and rain bearing clouds from the tropics from spreading across Australia. In a positive phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole, a deep water upwelling of cold water develops off north west Australia and Indonesia. This blocks moisture and rain bearing clouds from the tropics from spreading across Australia.
When ENSO is in a La Niña phase a warm body of water sits off the north east of Australia, leading to above average rainfall in many areas of eastern and northern Australia. When ENSO is in a La Niña phase a warm body of water sits off the north east of Australia, leading to above average rainfall in many areas of eastern and northern Australia.
The ancient White Fig tree (Ficus virens) at Fig Tree Spring on Carnarvon after it was saved by firefighting efforts in December 2020. Photo by Richard Geddes The ancient White Fig tree (Ficus virens) at Fig Tree Spring on Carnarvon after it was saved by firefighting efforts in December 2020. Photo by Richard Geddes
Healthy Landscape Manager Central Queensland Chris Wilson briefing fire crews before the night shift on the eastern flank of the fire. Photo by Richard Geddes Healthy Landscape Manager Central Queensland Chris Wilson briefing fire crews before the night shift on the eastern flank of the fire. Photo by Richard Geddes
Area burnt by December 2020 fire already regenerating well by late January 2021. Photo by Carnarvon Reserve Manager Chris Wilson Area burnt by December 2020 fire already regenerating well by late January 2021. Photo by Carnarvon Reserve Manager Chris Wilson

Related stories

BUSHTRACKS 21/06/2024

A day with DUMAWUL

We deepen our understanding of Djandak’s history, present and future.

Read More
Prescribed burn at Pilunga Reserve, Wangkamadla Country. By Bee Stephens

BUSHTRACKS 27/10/2023

Land, bird, smoke and man

Prescribed burns on Pilungah and Ethabuka reserves, Wangkamadla Country, prepare the landscape for bushfire season and enhance biodiversity.

Read More
Bush Broadcast: Live from Boolcoomatta

13/10/2023

Webinar: Climate change resilience

Live from Tarcutta Reserve (NSW) where staff on the ground will discuss managing our reserves to create bushfire-resilient landscapes.

Read More
Woodlands at Tarcutta Hills. By Annette Ruzicka

BUSHTRACKS 13/06/2023

The first of many flames

A cultural burn at Tarcutta Hills Reserve, Wiradjuri Country, lights the way for the revival of right-way fire practices.

Read More

BLOG 10/03/2023

2023 North Australia Savannah Fire Forum

We had several Bush Heritage representatives at the annual Savanna Fire Forum on Larrakia country last month. After two years of online events, savannah fire management experts from across the country were glad to meet face-to-face this year.

Read More

BLOG 08/02/2023

Fighting fire in the dry

A recent wildfire on Yourka Reserve has revealed the benefits of best practice controlled burning in tropical north Queensland.

Read More
Cool burn at Friendly Beaches Reserve, Tasmania. Photo Michael Bretz.

BUSHTRACKS 17/10/2022

A friendly fire

Led by truwana Rangers, cool burning at Friendly Beaches Reserve plans to create the healthiest possible habitat for the vulnerable New Holland Mouse.

Read More
Paul Hales conducting a controlled burn. Photo Martin Willis.

BUSHTRACKS 14/06/2022

The art of burning in the rain

How aerial, controlled burning is utilising climatic conditions at Yourka Reserve on Jirrbal and Warrungu country in Queensland.

Read More

BLOG 21/02/2022

What has all this rain meant for our fire team?

The 2021/22 La Nina has brought significant rainfall to the eastern seaboard of Australia, while the west has seen below average conditions. Here are some weather highlights from the first few months.

Read More
Grass fire. Photo Mark Jones.

BUSHTRACKS 07/10/2021

Fiery footprints

After 10 years of the Healthy Country Plan, Wunambal Gaambera country is thriving, with right-way fire lighting the way.

Read More

BLOG 27/04/2021

Bunuba right-way winthali

On Bunuba country in the Kimberley, essential winthali (fire) work is being undertaken to prepare the land for the dry season.

Read More

BLOG 07/01/2021

A summer fire near Naree

On Monday 28 December a fire, caused by a lightning strike from a recent thunderstorm, started on a neighbouring property to the west of Naree Station Reserve on Budjiti country in north​ western New South Wales. Thankfully, it was quickly contained.

Read More
A blazing wildfire.

04/12/2020

Bushfire impact & recovery

A year on from the 2019 bushfire season, how Bush Heritage Australia and WIRES are working collaboratively to help secure the future of all native species.

Read More

BLOG 22/07/2020

A fire management first

Set between the harsh, arid desert uplands and escarpment of the Aramac range and the fertile black soil plains to the south, Edgbaston Reserve is a truly unique and diverse area. Last week Bush Heritage staff began its program of fire management activities on Edgbaston for the first time since purchase of this property.

Read More

BLOG 14/07/2020

Enriching grasslands after fire

In February this year about 73% (1006ha) of Scottsdale Reserve burnt in the Clear Range bushfire. Around 84% of its native grasslands were affected and more than 50% of the reserve’s woodlands burnt at such a high intensity that the native seed bank was destroyed.

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 12/06/2020

Seeds of change

Fire can be as harmful as it is essential in the Kimberley of Western Australia. Maintaining that fine balance is at the heart of the Bunuba Rangers’ fire program, bringing right-way winthali back to country.

Read More
Raptors hunt around the edges of a burn. Photo Claire Thompson.

BUSHTRACKS 12/06/2020

Firebirds

The Mimal Rangers of central Arnhem Land are looking after country the right way, preventing damaging wildfires and reducing emissions, with a fire-spreading raptor at their side.

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 12/06/2020

Six months on

Silver linings shine as Bush Heritage’s Yourka Reserve in far north Queensland regenerates following a significant bushfire last year.

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 13/04/2020

The science of recovery

Two months after the North Black Range Fire swept across Bush Heritage’s Burrin Burrin Reserve in NSW, ecologist Dr Matt Appleby assesses the damage and recovery rate.

Read More

BLOG 28/02/2020

Bushfire on-ground assessments

It's been a very busy few weeks here at Bush Heritage. I have been out to our bushfire affected reserves in New South Wales to survey the impact alongside our Senior Leadership team, local reserve staff and ecologists.

Read More

BLOG 07/02/2020

Bushfire update from Scottsdale

On Saturday 1 February, the Orroral (Namadgi) and Clear Range fires swept over the Murrumbidgee River and onto the western half of our Scottsdale Reserve. This has been a tense and challenging time and we are eternally grateful for the heroic efforts of the RFS and the extraordinary people on the ground fighting for our beloved Scottsdale. Importantly, our people remain safe and our community strong.

Read More

BLOG 03/02/2020

Scottsdale under fire

As we know from this unrelenting bushfire season, a lot can change in the space of a weekend. When I wrote to you on Friday with an update, we were hopeful that our Scottsdale Reserve, located between Canberra and Cooma, would remain unscathed. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the NSW Rural Fire Service and our on-ground staff (themselves with personal property under threat), a large proportion of Scottsdale has been, and continues to be, impacted by bushfire. As you can imagine, it’s been a tense and challenging time.

Read More

BLOG 31/01/2020

Bushfires update

As we enter a new month, I would like to take a moment to update you on recent developments towards our post-bushfire recovery. The devastation wrought has been confronting. My heart remains with those affected, those still fighting fires and those on the ground beginning the long process of recovery.

Read More

BLOG 06/01/2020

Bushfires on our reserves

I wanted to personally update Bush Heritage supporters on the fire threat and impact to our reserves. At the end of 2019, our on ground staff and neighbours fought fires of varying severity on six Bush Heritage reserves in three states.

Read More

BLOG 17/12/2019

Adapting to 'black swan' fire events

Some thoughts on the Australian fire crisis and an update on Bush Heritage's fire control efforts by Richard Geddes, Bush Heritage Australia's National Fire Program Manager

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 22/03/2019

Burning the right way

Using Western technologies and traditional knowledge to keep country healthy and a millenia-old tradition alive.

Read More

BLOG 14/12/2018

Feral cats caught on camera

We've been testing the use of burn lines as a way to draw cats towards our new Felixer cat traps at Ethabuka Reserve. The results so far are super encouraging.

Read More

BLOG 10/05/2018

Preparing for Barrangga

Recently I had the pleasure of being part of the annual fire management work undertaken by the Bunuba Rangers and Traditional Landowners on Leopold Downs Station (Yarrangi) in the Kimberley.

Read More

BLOG 30/04/2018

Bringing fire back to Tassie Midlands

I was recently at Beaufront, a stunning property owned by farmer and private conservationist Julian von Bibra in the Tasmanian Midlands, working alongside University of Tasmania on an innovative new fire experiment that we hope will give us some insights into the effects of fire and grazing on vegetation composition and structure.

Read More

BLOG 23/01/2018

The raging wildfire debate

Many of you may have read an article in a recent Good Weekend magazine, debating the merits of conducting prescribed burning in Northern Australia. As Bush Heritage's National Fire Program Manager, with over a decade working in fire management and conservation in that region, I wanted to respond to some of the inaccuracies of this report.

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 07/12/2017

In fiery footsteps

There are more than 6000 patches of rainforest on Wunambal Gaambera country, for which fire can be both protector and destroyer.

Read More

BLOG 27/10/2016

Fire fighting green team

Bunuba Rangers attended the recent Kimberley mega wildfire, which has burnt over 1.5 million ha of remote county across the indigenous protected areas (IPAs) and pastoral properties in the western Kimberley.

Read More

BUSHTRACKS 21/12/2015

Line of fire

Out on Bon Bon Station Reserve, the heat can sear your skin and leave you breathless. And yet this massive piece of land, which rivals the size of Sydney, is home to some of Australia’s most extraordinary creatures like the southern hairy-nosed wombat and the rare chestnut breasted whiteface. Here's how we manage wildfire risk for Bon Bon’s diverse plants and animals.

Read More
Loading...
{{itemsInCart}} Items - {{formatCurrency(grandTotal)}}