The bushfire crisis in Australia that started in September killed at least 27 people and forced countless to evacuate. The flames have consumed 25.5 million acres of land, destroyed more than 2,000 homes, and killed around a billion animals.
However, it seems that our prayers have been answered.
After months of extreme heat and ravaging flames that kept destroying the country, Australia is starting to receive the first significant rainfall.
On Thursday morning, downpours already started putting out 32 fires across New South Wales (NSW), reducing the number of blazes from 120 to 88. Communities in NSW and Victoria hope to have a rainy weekend, and forecasters believe that heavy downpours and thunderstorms in the region are likely.
According to the Bureau of Meteorology, eastern Australia will see anywhere from over an inch (30mm) to over 3 inches of rain through the weekend. Sky News reported that in only a few hours, a month’s worth of rain fell over Melbourne.
The map published by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology showed rain for the majority of the state across the next several days.
The NSW Rural Fire Service shared it on Twitter, adding that the rainfall would be “all of our Christmas, birthday, engagement, anniversary, wedding and graduation presents rolled into one.”
NSW Rural Fire Service Inspector Ben Shepherd stated:
“It’s the most positive forecast the RFS has had in months and will give crews a chance to regroup and work on containment lines.“
If this @BOM_NSW rainfall forecast comes to fruition then this will be all of our Christmas, birthday, engagement, anniversary, wedding and graduation presents rolled into one. Fingers crossed. #NSWRFS #nswfires pic.twitter.com/R9VfD0bqu2
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 12, 2020
Yet, the rain expected for the weekend is unlikely to extinguish all of the fires. According to the bureau, the rain can help, but the risk of other calamities has increased.
While the massive rain bomb forecast will bring relief and help the exhausted firefighters, the downpours could cause dangerous landslides.
According to Bureau meteorologist Sarah Scully:
“Hopefully some of this heavy rainfall will fall over fire sites and help control or even extinguish fires.
But it’s a bit of a double-edged sword because heavy rainfall and gusty thunderstorms bring the potential for flash flooding, particularly in the burnt-out areas of NSW and Victoria which are now vulnerable to landslips and trees coming down.”
The hit & miss nature of #thunderstorms means it’s difficult to forecast exactly where the heaviest rain will be—some parts of #bushfire & #drought affected eastern Australia could see 50–100 mm over the next few days; while others may see very little https://t.co/T7MYuIdxkO pic.twitter.com/zgmiBmqcIG
— Bureau of Meteorology, Australia (@BOM_au) January 15, 2020
Additionally, the rain might cause another disaster by washing toxic ash into waterways, as it might lead to mass fish deaths and contamination of the drinking water supplies for millions of people.
Prof Stuart Khan, an environmental engineer and water expert at the University of New South Wales explained:
“We are in a vulnerable position with all that ash sitting on a catchment that’s unstable and prone to erosion that could include landslides and trees being dislodged.
We’re not expecting extreme rainfall, but if any places do and they’re areas that have been burned, then we’d expect ash and soil running into waterways.”
The NSW SES agrees that rains might also increase the risk of flash flooding, falling trees, and landslips after fire wiped out trees and growth. As NSW SES assistant commissioner Paul Bailey explained:
“While the rain is welcomed, heavy rainfall and storms in fire-affected areas can lead to dangerous conditions such as a higher risk of flash flooding, falling trees, and landslips.
In areas impacted by fires where vegetation has been destroyed, water from heavy rainfall can flow into riverbeds and we could see run-off in areas we wouldn’t normally, resulting in flash flooding.
The NSW SES is also asking residents in fire-affected areas to watch for possible landslips as the ground and roads can be damaged, therefore creating a higher risk of a potential slip.”