Tropical System Could Ease Bushfire Danger in Bone-Dry Western Australia

Bushfires have forced some Australians to flee COVID-19 lockdowns in the Perth area in what's being called an "unprecedented situation." A tropical system off the coast could ease fire concerns but may trigger other problems.

In this photo provided by Department of Fire and Emergency Services, a firefighter attends to a fire near Wooroloo, northeast of Perth, Australia, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. An out-of-control wildfire burning northeast of the Australian west coast city of Perth has destroyed dozens of homes and was threatening more. Image Credit: Evan Collis/DFES via AP

A new fire, the Wooroloo Fire, started on Monday, Feb. 1, just 18.5 miles (30 km) east of the state's capital city, Perth.

As of midday on Thursday, the fire had already destroyed at least 81 homes and injured six firefighters, according to The Guardian and the BBC. Almost 20,000 acres (more than 8,000 hectares) were scorched by Tuesday evening, according to CNN, with reports of more than 24,000 burned acres (more than 10,000 hectares) coming in.

As of Friday, the number of homes destroyed in the fire increased to 86, according to the Guardian.

Western Australia's Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) urged thousands of residents in the Wooroloo and Gidgegannup areas to evacuate, as well as those in Shady Hills on Wednesday. Many of these neighboring towns to Perth underwent a COVID-19 lockdown earlier this week, which asked more than 2 million people to be on "full lockdown."

The DFES commissioner Darren Klemm said in a media briefing "that evacuation overrides any quarantining requirements people might have."

Western Australia's premier, Mark McGowan, called the collision of the pandemic and fires posed an "unprecedented situation."

While firefighters say they have 90% of the fire mapped out as of Thursday, it does not mean that it's been brought under control. DFES deputy commissioner, Craig Waters, told The Guardian he was still concerned about forecasted strong winds and rugged terrain that has been making the situation difficult for fire-fighters.

In addition, poor air quality continued through the end of the week.


At the same time, a tropical low has been churning off the Western Australia coast. Periods of heavy rain targeted Minilya on Thursday, leaving motorists stranded in the floodwaters.

The low continued to shift southward through the weekend, giving relief to towns like Minilya, and approaching Perth and the nearby suburbs impacted by the fires.

"The tropical low looks unlikely to strengthen through the weekend, as it moves into cooler waters," said AccuWeather Lead International Meteorologist Jason Nichols. "Despite no additional strengthening, the tropical low brought much-needed rain to the Perth region."

Perth recorded 0.59 of an inch (15 mm) of rain on Saturday with showers expected to linger into the beginning of the week.

This amount of rain helped firefighters to gain control of the Wooroloo Bushfire.

The rain could help to moisten the ground some, and help clear out the air. But, unfortunately, any heavier downpours could also lead to flash flooding, especially in burn-scar areas of the half-dozen fires burning between Geraldton and Bunbury.

The city of Perth hasn't received any rain since Dec. 13 and has surpassed 100 F (38 C) a total of nine times since then, leaving the area full of dry tinder.

On Wednesday, erratic winds of about 45 mph (75 km/h) were giving firefighters trouble in the Wooroloo area. The incoming storm could put firefighters in a similar situation later on Saturday and into Sunday as winds pick up and change directions.


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More tropical woes could be on the way for the country. While Cyclone Lucas continues to spin well east of Australia, another tropical low could soon form near its northeastern coast.

"It is possible another tropical low forms in the Gulf of Carpentaria as this weekend," Nicholls warned.

Nicholls added that it will move southwesterly and make landfall rather quickly and may not have enough time to become a tropical cyclone. If a tropical low or tropical cyclone does develop, some areas along the coast could be faced with gusty winds.

Whether a defined tropical system forms or not, it is likely to deliver heavy rain to the Far North and North West areas of Queensland and northern third of Northern Territory. It's possible that much of this region could see 3 inches (75 mm) of rain in just a few days.

The 2019-2020 bushfire season in Australia was one of the worst the country as ever experienced. Dangerous blazes emerged from Western Australia to New South Wales and Victoria. As a result, at least 34 people lost their lives, about 1 billion animals were killed and more than 46 million acres (18.6 million hectacres) of land was burned.

Keep checking back on and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.


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