It's like a stuck record... Read about Port Stephens

FROM THE NEWCASTLE HERALD

Wednesday April 9, 2014

By GEOFF WALKER

Oct. 11, 2013, 10 p.m.

OPINION: BUSHFIRE FUEL MUST BE KEPT IN CHECK

HAVING been involved with the bushfire business for the past 30years, I’ve seen a lot of changes. 

By far the greatest seismic shift came in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Green politics started to intrude at the grassroots level and the traditional burn-offs all but stopped. In the case of my local brigade, the figures were truly frightening. From an average of 15 burn-offs in the ’70s, it dropped to an average of nine in the ’80s and only one or two in the 1990s. Since then, burn-offs have virtually ceased with the fuel loads rising to levels never seen before.

We all knew what was going to happen – and it did. In 1994, an uncontrollable fire storm ripped through the areas of Medowie, Williamtown and Salt Ash, gobbling up a factory, a house, about 60 koalas and countless other native creatures. 

So angry was the Port Stephens mayor Bruce MacKenzie (himself a life member of the Salt Ash Brigade) that he called a public meeting. The Williamtown hall was packed as local farmers and residents vented their anger at the unchecked bushfire fuel level, which caused the disaster.

Politicians and fire-control bureaucrats reassured residents that they had the situation well in hand and that a new statewide management plan would solve all our problems. But this document found that Port Stephens was ‘‘insignificant to major bushfire risk”, which local people found farcical. 

Such was the complexity of the plan and protocols needed to get a burn-off done that nothing happened for the following decade throughout the Hunter. Even after 175 homes were lost in Sydney, another 530 in Canberra, and with four people dead, there was no change in bushfire management strategy.

I got sick and tired of people ringing me up and knocking on my door with fear in their voices. In the hope of changing things, I decided to organise a bushfire conference to try to get some commonsense back into bushfire management.

More than 300 residents, bushfire researchers, farmers, grassroots firefighters, politicians and the fire commissioner turned up. We were hoping for a shift in policy towards fire mitigation rather than suppression. The only one at the meeting against this philosophy was the fire commissioner, who called for a 500man-hour fire fuel audit of our area. Nobody in attendance wanted an audit. They just wanted to see the burn-offs done. 

It took the tragic loss of  173 lives, 2000 homes, countless wildlife and livestock  in Victoria – our worst peacetime disaster – to change things. 

A ‘‘catastrophic’’ bushfire indicator was introduced and burn-offs were very much back on the agenda.

About three years ago, some nine fire units, half-a-dozen captains, three group officers, scout vehicles and caterers turned up to burn-off a 22hectares of scrub at Mallabula. I tried to cover the story for a local paper but the Rural Fire Service hunted me away.

The Rural Fire Service should delegate burn-off control to grassroots brigades. In this way, fire fuel would be a lot less and the firestorms fewer. 

Money should be spent on trucks and hoses, not publicity campaigns.

THE INTREPID GEOFF WALKER IS A JOURNALIST, FORMER DEPUTY CAPTAIN OF THE LEMON TREE PASSAGE BUSHFIRE BRIGADE & A RETIRED SCHOOL TEACHER. TO READ MORE OF HIS TENACIOUS STRUGGLE OVER DECADES TO BRING LIFESAVING CHANGE, PLEASE CLICK: https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/doomed-planet/2014/10/burn/


INTENSE BUSHFIRES ENDANGER KOALAS    by Elle Rasink

Koalas in Australia are very vulnerable to intense bushfires.

Koala with burnt paws sitting in a tub of water

Before European settlement, Aborigines would regularly burn 

in a mosaic pattern, alternating cleared and uncleared land

year by year, or season by season.

This gave koalas a regular supply of tasty new shoots as the 

land regenerated.

And it prevented a buildup of flammable material - so that 

dead trees and branches and dry grass and leaves did not burn 

too fiercely. 

The fires would pass quickly across the land, doing no more 

than scorch healthy trees.

Life saving treatment after a fire

Koalas sitting high in the branches could simply stay there, relatively unaffected.



These land management practices are no longer the norm. Parks and forests carry 

much higher fuel loads and bushfires burn hotter and for longer.

The heat is often so intense that fireballs explode high up in the canopies and fires jump cleared pastures 

to roar on unchecked.

Marooned in a little island of trees, our slow moving koalas stand little chance of surviving fires so hot they can kill 

anything without protective clothing within 120 metres.

Many become victims.

OPINION

  1. +more opinion news

GREG RAY: Leave our clocks alone

GREG RAY: Leave our clocks alone

THE only good thing about daylight saving, if you ask me, is the first morning after the clocks ... 

Must-win fight for Anthony Mundine: opinion

Must-win fight for Anthony Mundine: opinion

ANTHONY Mundine walks into Wednesday night’s fight with Joshua Clottey knowing that not only must he win, but ... 

TOPICS: Groovin the Moo birthday cake by MKR Carley, Tresne

TOPICS: Groovin the Moo birthday cake by MKR Carley, Tresne

IT is hard to believe, but 2014 marks 10 years of regional Australia's favourite festival, Groovin' the Moo. 

LETTER: Where was our spy base?

LETTER: Where was our spy base?

THE thing that has bothered me about the missing flight MH370 is this: Australia and the United States ... 

A win for Bulga may not end coalmine expansion: opinion

A win for Bulga may not end coalmine expansion: opinion

The state government’s priorities are wrong, writes Steve Phillips. 

Comments