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The Forum > Article Comments > Bush fires: who will burn this year? > Comments

Bush fires: who will burn this year? : Comments

By Peter Moore, published 28/7/2005

Peter Moore argues bush fires are not unprecedented and can be foreseen, so what is happening to prevent them?

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One of the finest forests on the East Coast can be found only 15 minutes from Brisbane CBD. It is 220ha of regrowth Blackbutt that was a bare paddock in the 1930's. The current owner bought the then worthless, trace element deficient block in 1937 after an earlier fire had produced regrowth so thick that cattle could not get through it. With judicious use of a ringbarking axe, selective harvesting and regular controlled burning he now has a forest that most wildlife prefer over the State Forest on one boundary and the National Park on another.

Now in his eighties, Glenn Shailer continues his well proven fire management regime of small strategically located, low intensity fires, on as many winter nights as possible, to produce a variegated understorey mosaic that has almost zero probability of forest damage and zero threat to surrounding suburbia. Until recently.

One Council moron suggested that mowing (220ha) was more ecologically responsible. They now want him to prepare a fire management plan, bring in the urban fire units and remaining volunteer rural fire unit and do the lot in a single burn. At one stage they would only come in daylight so they could knock off at dusk. Instead of his own mid-winter burns, they can only fit him in around late November. And they want a significant payment for this "service" of undisclosed cost.

So even when the recognised wisdom of controlled fire management is actually taken up by government agencies, and is to be implemented by trained staff, it will still be converted into unsustainable, excessively costly and high risk outcomes by the inherently asynergistic nature of public sector ecology. The whole is significantly less than the sum of it's parts.
Posted by Perseus, Thursday, 28 July 2005 12:19:15 PM
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Peter - thank you for your accurate, necessary and indeed timely article.

We were in the 2001 fires at Kurrajong NSW - an experience that has given us further "respect" for fire control prevention strategies.

We were camping on Christmas Day at Portland on the Hawkesbury (we had arrived on Christmas eve. There was no indication at that time that fires would burn out of control). Just about to serve Christmas lunch when my husband said: "Turn it off, grab some wine and food - we're going home to check the house". We sat in our home for two weeks waiting for "that" moment! Large fires were only a kilometre away - and three homes were burned down in that area.

The choppers' flight path was directly over our home. I will never forget that noise - I still get awful goose bumps when I see or hear a chopper. "Elvis" also travelled over the top of our property.

Prior to our so-called holiday (which lasted less than 24 hours)we had done all of the things that responsible people should do: cleaned our gutters, cleared the grounds and mowed grass, hoses appropriately positioned etc.

We watched the volunteer fire fighters (who were opposite our property 24 hours per day)do their job. We listened to their frustration re lack of or nil back burning. They were certain that the Hawkesbury fires could have been thwarted - if not prevented. They wanted to back burn but were not given permission. They gave the government and local council 12 months warning of the likelihood of the 2001 disaster.

I was on the Wentworth Area Mental Health Disaster Team. When we arrived home from camping the phone rang as we walked inside (what an irony!). The Disaster Team Convenor was calling me to go to another area to provide triage and counselling for fire victims. Sadly, I could not assist because our home was at high risk.

I hope you can make a difference.
Posted by kalweb, Thursday, 28 July 2005 6:42:15 PM
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By the number of comments, Peter, either no-one contests the validity of your argument or no-one cares. It is no small irony that the ACT Government can kill one in 65,000 of its own population and still get re-elected. Meanwhile millions of dollars are being spent on anti-terrorism measures that, in London, killed one in 200,000 of population.

On the ACT experience, an entirely foreseeable and preventable conflagration in greater Sydney could kill 70 people and both the Premier and the Commissioner for Photo Ops, Copeburg, could still keep his job.

The other great irony is that all the historical clearing of land for farming in NSW has never produced habitat destruction in a single year to match the scale, concentration and temporal intensity exhibited by the management of the so-called public protected forests. There may have been years when the total area cleared was similar to the area recently destroyed by fire but this impact was spread over thousands of landholdings in marginal changes to habitat size. The "Parkies" have destroyed entire regional ecosystems in a single hit. And half of them were down at the beach when it happened.
Posted by Perseus, Wednesday, 3 August 2005 11:57:07 AM
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