Policy critics predicted ‘inevitable mega-fires’

by Andrew Rule, the Age (AU), February 14, 2023 [here]

A GROUP of forest-fire experts has accused state Environment Minister Gavin Jennings of attempting to deceive the public — and of pre-empting a royal commission — over fuel-reduction burning.

Mr Jennings this week defended the Government over suggestions it had contributed to Australia’s worst peacetime disaster by tacitly neglecting its commitment to fuel-reduction burning to appease the green lobby.

Forest Fire Victoria [here] — a group of forestry experts and scientists, including outspoken academic David Packham — claims the Government has sidelined crucial recommendations from its own parliamentary environment and natural resources committee to curry favour with environmentalists.

more »

Time to heed the warnings

Andrew Bolt, Herald Sun, February 13, 2023 [here]

JOHN Brumby says he will call a royal commission into the fires that have so mauled us.

“We want to put in place whatever arrangements are necessary to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.”

Good, Premier. But the question is: will your government this time listen?

Every time we suffer a disastrous bushfire it’s the same. In our agony, we set up an inquiry.

Cold months - even years - later, that inquiry tells us that we must especially do more fuel reduction burns to stop forest litter from mounting so high that it turns a fire into a turbo-fuelled inferno, impossible to fight.

And each time governments ignore them. Or forget them. Or hear too late.

In fact, no government has ignored them more completely than this one, doing fewer and fewer fuel reduction (or prescribed) burns over this past 10 years, until time had run out.

more »

Prescribed Fire Hampered by Aussie Greens

Burnoffs following Victoria bushfires a ‘threat to biodiversity’

Siobhain Ryan, The Australian, February 12, 2023 [here]

CONTROLLED burning would be declared a key national threat to biodiversity under a new proposal before government that has been slammed as dangerous to life and property.

While Environment Minister Peter Garrett yesterday gave Victoria carte blanche to do all it needed to control its deadly bushfires, without review by federal environment laws, it emerged he will be asked next year to decide whether prescribed burning to reduce fuel loads puts plants and animals at risk.

A Department of Environment spokeswoman confirmed yesterday it had received a public submission to list controlled burning as a “key threatening process” - the same category that applies to climate change, land clearing and feral cats, pigs and foxes.

“This recommendation is due by late 2010,” she said.

Victoria’s bushfire tragedy has focused attention on the management of its state forests, national parks and other Crown land, which make up a third of the state but contributed four-fifths of the fires started since Australia Day.

more »

Environmental Policies Kill - Again!

by Iain Murray, Competitive Enterprise Institute, February 11, 2023 [here]

One of the main themes of my book, The Really Inconvenient Truths [here], is that misguided environmental policies often lead to humanitarian and environmental disaster. We’ve just seen another example in Australia, where fires have claimed many lives. Distraught survivors are certain they know at least part of the reason why the fires were able to do so:

During question time at a packed community meeting in Arthurs Creek on Melbourne’s northern fringe, Warwick Spooner — whose mother Marilyn and brother Damien perished along with their home in the Strathewen blaze — criticised the Nillumbik council for the limitations it placed on residents wanting the council’s help or permission to clean up around their properties in preparation for the bushfire season. “We’ve lost two people in my family because you dickheads won’t cut trees down,” he said.

It’s called bushfire season for a reason: the bush catches fire. If you want to reduce the effects, you cut back the bush. Policies that stop this are criminally dangerous.

more »

11 Feb 2009, 10:52am
The 2009 Fire Season
by admin
1 comment

Black Saturday: The Sequel

by Stephen J. Pyne, Forest History Society Guest Commentary, February 10, 2024 [here]

The fires are a horror, even by Australian standards, which is saying much. But for those of us who have long admired Australia’s gritty resolve in the face of conflagrations and have regarded it as a firepower for the caliber of its fire sciences and its bushfire brigades, the recent spectacle arouses dismay and sadness as well.

This is not the first such eruption. Australia has filled up the weekly calendar with Red Tuesdays, Ash Wednesdays, Black Thursdays, and so on. The chronicle is having to appeal to holidays like Black Christmas and renumber its sequels. Black Saturday II is a monster: the bad bushfire on steroids. But it is not an alien visitation. It is a recurring nightmare, at times worse, at times less savage, and Australians seem unable to do anything but fight and flee, and curse and console.

***

The reason for the fires is simple. Australia is a fire continent: it is built to burn. To this general combustibility its southeast adds a pattern of seasonal winds, associated with cold fronts that draft scorching, unstable air from the interior across whatever flame lies on the land. At such times the region becomes a colossal fire flume that fans flames which for scale and savagery have no equal elsewhere on Earth.

But even heat waves do not kindle fires of themselves, and cyclonic winds do not drive fire in the same way they do storm surges. Fire is not a physical substance: it is a reaction. It feeds on the vegetation, and whatever climatic forces exist must be integrated into that combustible biomass. Fire, that is, synthesizes its surroundings. Understand its setting, and you understand fire. Control that setting, and you control fire.

***

What saddens many of us is that Australia knows better. It developed many key concepts of fire ecology and models of bushfire behavior. It pioneered landscape-scale prescribed burning as a method of bushfire management. It devised the protocol for structure protection in the bush, especially, the ingenious stratagem of leaving early or staying, preparing, and defending. In recent decades, it has beefed up active suppression capabilities and emergency response services.

Almost uniquely, Australia seemed to have gotten the basics right, certainly better than the muscle-bound, paramilitary response of North America. That approach only set up an ecological insurgency which summer surges of hardware and firefighters could never quell. Americans looked to Australia especially as a cognate country that knew how to replace feral fire with tame fire.

Yet Australia keeps enduring the same Sisyphean cycle of calamitous conflagrations in the same places. It isn’t getting what it knows into its practices. It seems to be abandoning its historic solutions for precisely the kind of telegenic suppression operations and political theater that have failed elsewhere. Even when controlled burning is accepted “in principle,” there always seems a reason not to burn in this place or at this time. The burning gets outsourced to lightning, accident, and arson.

It’s too early to identify the particulars behind this most recent catastrophe. But it’s likely that investigation will point to the same culprits, perhaps aggravated by climate change and arson. Both are reasons, and both are also potential misdirections. Global warming might magnify outbreaks, but it means a change in degree, not in kind; and its effects must still be absorbed by the combustible cover. Arson can put fire in the worst place at the worst time, but its power depends on ignition’s capacity to spread and on flame to destroy susceptible buildings.

Neither is basic. With or without global warming or arson, damaging fires will come, they will spread as the landscape allows, and they will inflict damage as structures permit. And it is there – with how Australians live on the land – that reform must go.

***

Australia will have fire, and it will recycle the conditions that can leverage small flames into holocausts. The choice is whether to kindle those fires with some degree of deliberation, or whether to leave that task to lightning, clumsies, and crazies.

After the 1939 Black Friday conflagration, a royal commission set into motion the modern era of bushfire management. At the time the official ambition of state-sponsored conservation was to eliminate fire as far as possible, and through fire exclusion, ultimately to alter the very character of the landscape so that it would become less fire prone. Judge Stretton asked the nation’s forester why he continued to hold this view when it had never succeeded, when bushfires had inevitably wiped out his every repeated effort. Wryly, Stretton mocked the absurdity of those who sought to make sunburnt Australia into green England.

It seems likely that Black Saturday II will yield another royal commission. Much has changed over 70 years; Australians are more urban, more sensitive to environmental issues, keener to protect unique ecological assets. Yet perhaps they are substituting another, more modern delusion, striving to remake the burning bush into an unburnt Oz, only to find this vision also repeatedly obliterated by remorseless fire.

I hope not. We don’t need a Black Saturday III.

Note: Stephen J. Pyne is Regents Professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University and author of 20 books and numerous essays including Burning Bush: A Fire History of Australia (1991) and The Still-Burning Bush (2006). Dr. Pyne is a frequent contributor to W.I.S.E. and we are honored and very grateful for that. Links to his essays may be found [here] and [here].

8 Feb 2009, 1:00pm
The 2009 Fire Season
by admin
1 comment

Fuelish in the Land of Oz

For the last 40,000 years (at least, some say 60,000) the residents of Australia have been “burning off the bush.”  Anthropogenic fire was perfected in Australia, if not invented there.

In the Aborigine, Australian fire had discovered an extraordinary ally. Not only did ignition sources multiply and spread, but fire itself persisted through wet season and dry, across grassland and forest, in desert and on mountain. Lightning was a highly seasonal, episodic ignition source; the Aboriginal firestick was an eternal flame. — Stephen J. Pyne. Burning Bush: A Fire History of Australia. 1991, Henry Holt and Co.

Anthropogenic fire tamed the bush by frequently removing the pyrophytic vegetation of eucalypt and scrub, the unique botany and biota descended from the Mesolithic super-continent of Gondwana. Frequent fire set by residents steeped in traditional ecological knowledge controlled fuel build-ups, promoted landscape mosaics, and prevented continental megafires that could have severely compromised human survival.

That ancient wisdom has been all but lost; the most modern of Aussies are steeped in eco-babble and “natural fire” mythologies. And the piper has come home to roost, so to speak, again and again.

The latest Australian fire bust, born in untreated fuels, has claimed 84 lives and counting as of this morning:

Victoria’s bushfire toll hits 84 as fires continue to spread

from The Australian, Feb. 8, 2009 [here]

THE death toll from Victoria’s bushfires has risen to 84, amid grave fears for towns in the state’s northeast as fires continue to rage out of control.

Five people died at Flowerdale, two people at Hazeldene and three at Taggerty, while two more people were confirmed dead at Kinglake and a further person died at St Andrews. A person from Yea died in hospital.

The toll already surpasses the 28 in South Australia and the 47 Victorians that died in the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires, while the Black Friday blaze in 1939 claimed 71 lives. …

The Worldwide Dead Tree Press has already fingered global warming as the culprit, steeped in ignorance, as they are, about the ancient history of fire in Oz:

Bushfires and global warming: is there a link?

by David Adam and Ellen Connolly, The Guardian, Feb 8, 2024 [here]

Scientists have a hunch rising temperatures due to human activity are making fire and flood more likely

Scientists are reluctant to link ­individual weather events to global warming, because natural variability will always throw up extreme events. However, they say that climate change loads the dice, and can make severe episodes more likely. …

Bob Brown, a senator who leads the Australian Greens, said the bushfires showed what climate change could mean for Australia.

“Global warming is predicted to make this sort of event happen 25%, 50% more,” he told Sky News. “It’s a sobering reminder of the need for this nation and the whole world to act and put at a priority our need to tackle climate change.” …

Tackling climate change, however, will not do diddly to prevent bushfires. The climate has changed, dramatically, over the the last 40,000 to 60,000 years, yet Aussie bush fires have persisted throughout all those hoary millennia.

Foresters have a different view. Rather than tackling the chimera of “climate change,” a far more practical approach would be to manage the vegetation in the traditional manner, with prescribed fire. This prescient warning was published last March:

Phil Cheney. 2008. Can forestry manage bushfires in the future? Australian Forestry 2008 Vol. 71 No. 1 pp. 1–2 [here]

… In a strict statistical sense, the west cannot be a basis on which to assess the performance of fire management in the east, but the extensive fires in Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory are the result of a change in management, not a change in climate. The term ‘megafire’ has been coined to woo the press and assuage the politicians and support their apparent belief that these events are an act of God and not the result of the evisceration of the land management agencies, as pointed out by Roger Underwood in a previous editorial.

The forestry profession has always had a good appreciation of landscape scale and the management necessary to apply fire, but I believe that even foresters not intimately involved in the practice of prescribed burning have little appreciation of what is involved in applying fire at that scale. Few people recognise the effort required to burn 200,000 ha every year and produce the distribution of fuel of various ages, illustrated in Figure 1, which is necessary to effectively reduce the impact of wildfire. …

Unhappily I conclude that Australian forestry has abandoned fire management. This should of course be the responsibility of the conservation agencies — who now manage a substantial proportion of our public lands — as it is in WA. If the trend in Victoria extends elsewhere and fire management is placed it in the hands of the politicians and their emergency services organisations that focus on suppression by back-burning from strategic firebreaks, we can expect that large areas will be burnt severely in summer, perpetuating the myth of megafires.

Rather than set up the organisation and training for an effective prescribed burning program, it is far easier, I guess, to attribute the bushfires to God and climate change.

We can wring our hands and rail against the gods like savages, or we can take up the firestick and manage our landscapes like clever humans have been doing for tens of thousands of years.

Shall we pontificate in rotundas, or put our boots on the ground and do the job?

Shall we quiver in fear like powerless rodents as the megafires sweep away our forests, watersheds, towns, and cities? Or shall we lift our rears off our couches, resume our role as the Caretakers of our planet, and actively apply age-old wisdom?

Make no mistake about it; your life depends on how you answer that question.

 
  
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