Sunday, June 23, 2024

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Australia is fast heading into our worst fire season since the summer of 2019-2020, or Black Summer, when nearly 500 people died, either through direct deaths or smoke inhalation. All-too-familiar images of horrific blazes and blood-red skies are already starting to fill the news. This week, dozens of homes were destroyed and hundreds of people have been evacuated as firefighters battle a wildfire in the Tara region in Queensland. Two people died in two separate fires in New South Wales earlier this month, one of them a firefighter who suffered a medical emergency while on the job.

We are better prepared this year, officials have said. More firefighting aircraft are available, and our national emergency coordination has been streamlined. And experts broadly do not expect this summer to be as bad as four years ago as it is being preceded by several years of rain and floods rather than drought.

Still, it’s an unsettling feeling, watching the news and waiting for the worst.

In the heart of Sydney, far away from any landscapes that could burn, I’ve been looking into getting an air purifier for my parents, who have respiratory problems. I’ve overheard conversations from residents contemplating leaving the country for a month or two, fearing another summer of smoke and smog.

Of course, that’s something that many residents in bushfire-prone areas don’t have the luxury of considering. Many are still rebuilding their lives and homes after Black Summer, have spent the past four years trying to fireproof their communities, and have become de facto experts in fire-related topics as diverse as vegetation and weather maps. And for some, danger and destruction have already arrived.

“Our resilience is being tested yet again,” Zena Armstrong, who lives in Cobargo — a town decimated during Black Summer — wrote after a fire raged in the nearby town of Coolagolite this month. She described the “visceral tension” those around her felt, “knowing that a fierce and unpredictable summer is ahead of us and that, despite valiant efforts, we are still not ready for what’s coming at us.”

Four years ago, David Bowman, a professor of pyrogeography and fire science at the University of Tasmania, wrote in an article that went viral that Australians should reconsider the summer holiday — maybe rearranging the calendar to reschedule the peak holiday period to March or April instead of December or January, to avoid people flocking to national parks and forests during peak fire season and creating more work for firefighters. The idea might seem absurd, he wrote, but “things that once seemed absurd will now need serious consideration.”

He raised this idea again recently when I spoke to him about the summer ahead. “The holidays are going to be terrible,” he said. “I’m quite convinced there’ll be closures of national parks.”

This was one example of how, facing down a future of increasingly extreme weather conditions driven by climate change, we’ll need large-scale reconsiderations of the way we live, he said.

With that in mind, I wanted to turn the question over to our readers in Australia: How are you feeling about and planning for a summer of fire and smoke?

What are you doing differently? Are you making changes to the way you live, or how you plan to spend the holiday because of fires in the past or future? What are some of the preparations you’re seeing among your neighbors or in your community? What do you love about Australian summers — and how do you think they’re changing because of fire risk?

Write to us at Please be as detailed as you can — anecdotes are always better than general comments — and include your contact details if you’re happy for us to follow up with you, or to potentially have your experience included in an article.

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