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Here's Why We Should All Be Extremely Worried About This Year's Bushfire Season

A new report says this year is going to be the most dangerous one yet for fires in Australia.

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If you're feeling the heat right now, it's not just you. A new report from the Climate Council says 2015 is shaping up to be the hottest year on record.

Daniel Kalisz / Getty Images

Melbourne sweltered through two of the hottest October days on record and on Friday Sydney is expected to reach temperatures of up to 41 degrees.

Meteorologists at Weatherzone say South Australia will experience catastrophic fire conditions, with temperatures heading into the mid 40s across some parts of the state.

They're the kind of stats that have climate experts sweating, and not just because of the heat.

Rising temperatures, drought conditions, and hot winds mean we’re heading for a disastrous fire season that we're not prepared to deal with, the report warns.

The Climate Council's report says that Australia's bushfire season could be as ferocious as the devastating fires that have swept across the United States, destroying a whopping 38,000 square kilometres of land. That's an area half the size of Tasmania.

Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images

Firefighters battle the Butte fire near San Andreas, California on September 12, 2015.

Now the Climate Council – an expert group of academics and business people providing independent and accurate information on climate change – warning that severe droughts, plus rising global temperatures could spell the same fate for Australia.

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"Years of severe drought in combination with warmer temperatures created the tinderbox that fuelled the North American bushfires," the Climate Council's Professor Lesley Hughes said.

"Australia will face the same set of circumstances more and more often in the future."

A climate risk report from insurance company Munich Re comes up with similar conclusions. It found that southeastern Australia will have three times as many high-risk bushfire days over the century, because of climate change.

That warning is backed up by the government-funded Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, which has updated its seasonal bushfire outlook for 2015-2016.

bnhcrc.com.au

The updated map shows above normal bushfire danger for much of southern Australia.

"Across southern Australia, spring has so far been exceptionally dry. With record warm temperatures experienced across the country in October, the bushfire seasonal outlook has been re-examined for South Australia and Tasmania," the update reads.

We've already seen Australia's bushfire season starting early, and with tragic consequences. On Wednesday, at least four people were killed in a fire at Esperance, Western Australia.

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It used to be that fire season was just in summer. Now, it's starting in October, and not finishing until March, according to analysis of global climate data.

This means fire fighting resources will be stretched thin, and there'll be less opportunities for controlled burning. There's another problem too. In the US, dry weather means it's been harder for firefighters to find water to put the fires out.

Australia will need to double the amount of professional firefighters by the year 2030.

Bradley Kanaris / Getty Images

A study by the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research suggests that Australia will need to have 17,000 firefighters by 2030.

Right now, Australian firefighting agencies have deals with other countries where they share water bombing aircraft and personnel. But as the northern and southern hemisphere fire seasons get longer and start to overlap, it starts to be a problem.

Saeed Khan / AFP / Getty Images

Globally, the length of fire weather season has increased by 19% since 1979.

Steve Watts has worked as a professional firefighter for over 30 years. In July, he was part of a contingent of 100 fire agency personnel that went to Canada to help in their fire season. This summer, American and Canadian firefighters will come over to do the same.

"The threat has increased and you can already see the impact ," Watts told BuzzFeed News. "In Canada, there was two million hectares burnt already, compared to half a million hectares last year, so you can already see the change."

"If the northern and southern hemispheres are having longer periods of fires, there's going to be an issue of fatigue management, because there will be a shorter rest period in between," he said.

He said that will put a strain on the resources shared around the world as the threat level increases.

"It paints a pretty grim picture for the communities and the agencies expected to help them."

Over the years, Watts has seen a change in the way bushfires spread. "It's more rapid onset type of fires, that occur quickly and take off fast," he said.

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In the United States, veteran firefighters are saying the same type of thing.

"This fire wants to do whatever it wants," Californian firefighter Jason Shanley told the LA Times, as a fire in August swept across the Rockies. "It's defying all odds. Thirty-year, forty-year veterans have never seen this before."

The Climate Council says the conditions are creating a "ticking time bomb" in Australia.

Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images

“Australia’s climate change action is not enough to protect Australians from worsening bushfires," said Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie.

"We must join the rest of the world in meaningful action to bring climate change under control. The Paris climate conference provides an ideal opportunity for our country to set stronger emissions reduction targets.”

With Australia one of the world's largest emitters per capita, the pressure will be on us to find a way to stabilise the climate and make sure global temperatures do not rise beyond the 2°C limit. Longer and more intense bushfires also pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

The Climate Council wants Australia to invest more in renewable energy, and keep fossil fuels in the ground. Their warning is blunt.

"Ensuring that this 2°C limit is not exceeded will prevent even worse impacts from occurring, including the crossing of tipping points that could drive the warming trend beyond the limits of human adaptation."

Ahead of the talks, Australia has bowed to pressure from India and the US to back a OECD agreement to reduce government funding for coal plants. Under the deal, 34 wealthy countries will only put money towards new plants if they are the "cleanest" available.

Alexandra Lee is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Alex Lee at alexandra.lee@buzzfeed.com.

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