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Australia warned of ‘unfolding horror’ as US counts cost of Hawaii fires 

A University of Tasmania fire expert says the Hawaii wildfires hold lessons for Australia as the country braces for the likely arrival of El Nino, which raises the prospect of a scorching summer. 

“As a fire scientist, I know the unfolding horror is just the beginning,” Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science David Bowman said, referring to the catastrophe on the Hawaiian island of Maui. 

“It’s a portent of what Australia and other countries will experience in a warmer world.” 

The Maui wildfires have claimed at least 93 lives with many still unaccounted for and the fire is the deadliest in the US in more than a century since a blaze in northeast Minnesota killed hundreds of people in 1918, according to the New York Times. 

Hawaii Governor Josh Green was quoted as saying the fires left a trail of destruction that looked like “a bomb went off” and initial estimates suggest rebuilding Maui County will cost about $US5.52 billion ($8.5 billion). 

Australia’s most recent bushfire catastrophe, the 2019/20 Black Summer, razed more than 24 million hectares nationally and destroyed over 3000 homes. 

But Professor Bowman says the country has made little progress in preparing for future bushfire disasters despite a report in October 2020 from the bushfire royal commission. 

The report provided an adaptation plan for fires and other natural disasters but “almost three years on, we haven’t seen the changes needed,” he said. 

“We’re behaving as if we’ve got an endless amount of time. Australia is sleepwalking into our fiery future,” he says in an article published by The Conversation. 

“The fires in Hawaii remind Australians that our summer is just around the corner. We don’t have much time.” 

Australia is already on an El Nino alert with the Bureau of Meteorology maintaining its forecast this month that the climate pattern is likely to occur in the coming weeks. El Nino typically means reduced rainfall, warmer temperatures and increased fire danger in the south-east of the country. 

Weather agencies in the northern hemisphere have already declared an El Nino and the fires in Maui, Greece and other parts of Europe – along with the sweltering temperatures – have been blamed indirectly on the climate event.