A CLOSE CALL JAN 2013

 AN IDYLLIC JANUARY 2013 CAMPING TRIP

January 3, Full of New Year’s cheer, my neighbours (eight-month-old baby included) and I decided to go camping. We planned on either the Warrumbungle or the Barrington Tops National Parks. The baby joyfully waved her rattle as we looked for campsites. We peered from the two narrow national parks’ roads into walls of dead branches, blackberries, lantana, peeling bark and scrub under towering trees.

I had often talked of my whistleblowing PhD that showed bushfire operations were producing the firestorm crisis. My friends needed no convincing that through-the-roof fuel loads could trap and cook us in 100-hectare bonfires. We departed through each park's narrow one road in and one road out, looking at bush we needed a brushcutter to get through. Under the undergrowth’s elevated fuel[i] were 5—30cm deep layers of leaf litter. In extreme bushfire conditions, leaf litter layers over 5cm deep will produce firestorms, without the added heat of the elevated fuel[ii]. Literally a week before firestorms hit, we had a great holiday, but at a state forest near the ocean where it was a lot safer. We were home enjoying roast lamb dinners and swimming in the local ocean baths when national park fed fires began to destroy farmers’ livelihoods, kill trees and vaporise native animals.

There are about 6,000 national parks worldwide. About one quarter of these parks resemble the ones we saw and are in south-east Australia. Predictably that year, fires of 1,100° C or more consumed much of these SE Australian parks because of 60-years’ failure to adequately hazard reduce. Predictably too, the firefighting response drew the usual criticism that bushfire operations were geared to worsen fires. This was because of the gap between Bushfire Management Plans and a large body of evidence on how to mitigate bushfires and preserve the environment[iii].

National park plans have a “Mother Nature knows best” policy where a fictitious mother figure is de facto head bushfire manager. National park rangers give the “Mother Nature knows best" argument when refusing to reduce fuel loads and prosecuting campers caught burning dead park firewood.

In the upper echelons of policy-making, national parks and bushfire services organize grants for researchers through the $230 million Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre (CRC). Ex-bushfire service paid hierarchy mainly staff this CRC and commission research claiming to prove “Mother Nature knows best”[iv]. Richard Alder from the Victorian bushfire service, the Country Fire Authority, set up the first Bushfire CRC and his CRC expanded last year to include natural hazards research, bringing a handsome funding boost.

Despite scathing criticisms from coroners, Parliamentary inquiries and the Victorian Royal Commission, funding continues for “Mother Nature” research to reach purported findings that can be disproved when the evidence is examined. This raises questions of the ethics and funding pressures of research units that are in effect run by national parks and bushfire services. At best, “Mother Nature” research can be said to lack rigour[v]. This is because it tries to disprove a large body of evidence from the last 74 years showing:

·                Low fuel loads and rapid response in extreme conditions will break the escalating firestorm cycle.

·                Indigenous Australians taught early settlers to hazard reduce to be firestorm free.

The resultant suffering in Coonabarabran  that bushfire season showed far from motherly flaws in the “Mother Nature” argument.

No mother now, but at least Little Alice is alive after WINC rescued her. She weighs 328 grams and is so excited about drinking her formula, WINC have great hopes she will survive.

No mother now, but at least Little Alice is alive after WINCS rescued her. 

Warrumbungle National park burnt at 1,100 deg C or more, bending steel and within minutes at 120 metres or less from the flames,  countless animals died in agony from radiant heat.  Trees died at around 1,100 deg C. Charcoal sludge fouled watercourses. As the areas burnt were so vast, transpiration cycles were broken to create vast charcoal-crusted rain shadows and drought. Grass on pastures was destroyed, so livestock that survived had to be handfed. Livestock became economically unviable and meat markets crashed in a rush to sell. Homes and 1,000s of kilometers of fences were lost, adding further to the misery of having a national park neighbour. Some farmers could no longer even afford to pay for adequate insurance because of steep rate rises after the fires. New bushfire service building codes meant others could no longer afford to rebuild homes - the new building codes ad tens of  $thousands and so were above insurance coverage (see "Bushfire building codes burning your cash" top left menu bar).

  







 

 

References

 



[i] See McArthy, GJ; Tolhurst, KG & Chatto, K (1999) Overall Hazard Guide 3rd edn Natural Resources and Environment page 13; Gould, JS, McCaw, WL, Cheney, NP, Ellis, PF & Matthews, S (2007) Field Guide Fuel Assessment and Fire Behaviour Prediction in Dry Eucalypt Forest Australia: Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Department of Environment & Conservation, Western Australia; CSIRO (2003) submission to A Nation Charred: Inquiry into the Recent Australian Bushfires Canberra: Parliament of Australia & Gould, JS; McCaw, Wl; Cheney, N, Peter; Ellis, PF; Knight, IK & Sullivan, Andrew, L  (2008) Project Vesta Fire in Dry Forest Fuel Structure Fuel Dynamics and Fire Behaviour CSIRO Publishing Retrieved January 31 2014 from http://www.publish.csiro.au/pid/5993.htm. 

[ii] See McArthy, GJ; Tolhurst, KG & Chatto, K (1999) Overall Fuel Hazard Guide 3rd edn Natural Resources and Environment pages 4-5.

[iii] See McArthy, GJ; Tolhurst, KG & Chatto, K (1999) Overall Fuel Hazard Guide 3rd edn Natural Resources and Environment page iii; Sullivan, Andrew (2008) Grassfires fuel, weather and fire behaviour 2nd edn pages 2-4, 17-21 & 29; Gould, JS, McCaw, WL, Cheney, NP, Ellis, PF & Matthews, S (2007) Field Guide Fuel Assessment and Fire Behaviour Prediction in Dry Eucalypt Forest Australia: Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Department of Environment & Conservation, Western Australia; CSIRO (2003) submission to A Nation Charred: Inquiry into the Recent Australian Bushfires Canberra: Parliament of Australia & Gould, JS; McCaw, Wl; Cheney, N, Peter; Ellis, PF; Knight, IK & Sullivan, Andrew, L  (2008) Project Vesta Fire in Dry Forest Fuel Structure Fuel Dynamics and Fire Behaviour CSIRO Publishing Retrieved January 31 2014 from http://www.publish.csiro.au/pid/5993.htm.

[iv] See Richard Williams & Imogen Fraser (2013) Alpine grazing: does it reduce blazing? A large body of evidence shows that it does not. Retrieved from Ecological Society of Australia Retrieved January 31 2014 from https://www.ecolsoc.org.au/hot-topics/alpine-grazing-does-it-reduce-blazing & Mooney, Scott D; Radford, Kate & Hancock, Gary (2001) clues to the ‘burning question’: Pre-European fire in the Sydney coastal region from sedimentary charcoal and palynology Ecological Management & Restoration vol 2 no 3 December pages 203-12.

[v] See Richard Williams & Imogen Fraser (2013) Alpine grazing: does it reduce blazing? A large body of evidence shows that it does not. Retrieved from Ecological Society of Australia Retrieved January 31 2014 from https://www.ecolsoc.org.au/hot-topics/alpine-grazing-does-it-reduce-blazing & Mooney, Scott D; Radford, Kate & Hancock, Gary (2001) clues to the ‘burning question’: Pre-European fire in the Sydney coastal region from sedimentary charcoal and palynology Ecological Management & Restoration vol 2 no 3 December pages 203-12.


 

 

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