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Despite the August rain, another active fire season threatens

Above-average temperatures and rain deficits mean Australia's main population centres can expect a more active bushfire season this summer than usual.

A region taking in most of the Great Divide, stretching from north of Brisbane down to Sydney and on to Melbourne's west, faces heightened fire risks, according to the seasonal bushfire outlook compiled by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre. A similar arc runs from south-western WA to Adelaide.

"What's normal in an Australian context is that you will always get fire," said Richard Thornton, the centre's chief executive. "If it's above normal, it's going to be bad."

For NSW, the fire season is likely to be delayed by the wettest August in 11 years – and Sydney's soggiest since 1998 – which dumped double the average rainfall in coastal regions.

That rain, though, came after a generally dry period and by itself, and "will bring only temporary respite", said Shane Fitzsimmons, commissioner of the Rural Fire Service. "It will require a lot more than what we just had for the risk to disappear." 

Mr Fitzsimmons said areas near Sydney had their "most devastating and destructive fire season in decades" last year and the expected warmer and drier than normal weather through spring and El Nino-like effects may create similarly dangerous conditions.


"They are the reasons why we expect a pretty tough season for most of NSW," he said.

Nationally, maximum temperatures are running the second-highest on record for the past year, at 1.33 degrees above the long-run average, according to David Jones, head of climate monitoring at the Bureau of Meteorology.

"The heat this year is even more pronounced in the eastern states," Dr Jones said. Mean temperatures for NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria were 1.08 degrees above average over the past 12 months, eclipsing the previous record anomaly of 1.02 degrees set only last year.

Even with the cool past fortnight, winter as a whole was Sydney's equal-fourth warmest in records going back to 1859, said Acacia Pepler, a climatologist at the Bureau of Meteorology.

Sydney had the most August days of 10 millimetres or more of rain since 1908 – lifting the city's rainfall to about average for the June-August period, according to the bureau.

Cooler and cloudy conditions are likely to settle back in on Tuesday, including morning rain, after Monday's sparkling official start to spring and its top of 23.6 degrees.

The possibility of another east coast low forming this weekend may bring another deluge before warmer and sunnier days return next week, said Rob Sharpe, a meteorologist at Weatherzone.

While welcome, the recent and coming rain was likely to hamper hazard-reduction burns, Mr Fitzsimmons said.

Inclement conditions meant that fire authorities were able to achieve only about 72 per cent of the prescribed burning planned for 2013-14, according to preliminary figures, compared with 82 per cent a year earlier, he said.