11 January 2013 - AUSTRALIAN BUSHFIRES

Quote of the day:



"You cannot kindle a fire in another’s heart,

until it is burning in your own."

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 AUSTRALIAN BUSHFIRES


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G'day guys,
 In the past few weeks bushfires have raged in three of our six states and two territories. Some of our weather has been publicly described by firefighters as ‘catastrophic’. Indeed it has been. Here where I live, we have had several days close to 40 degrees celsius. That’s bloody hot. Trust me. I detest cold weather and love the heat, but even I was wilting. Today is a day of total fire ban with a predicted temperature of 43 degrees celsius.


However, bushfire has been part of the Australian landscape for millions of years but while we consider it a threat, some of our flora and fauna depend upon it. For ten years I lived in Marysville, Victoria – a major logging area for Mountain Ash. At the end of a logging season, forestry officers would conduct a regeneration burn – a massive bonfire. Eighteen months later, the regeneration of trees and undergrowth was startling. Seeds had been snapped open by the heat as can be seen depicted in the photograph below.

   Before and after - Black Saturday
Background


Much of Australia’s vegetation has evolved with fire and curiously, like the vegetation in other harsh dry environments, it has developed characteristics that promote the spread of fire:
  • Eucalypt litter is coarse and decays slowly, ensuring that after several years there will be an abundant build-up to carry the next fire.
  • The bark of many species is flammable and loosely attached to the trees, making ideal firebrands to carry fire across natural barriers.
  • The green leaves contain highly flammable oils and resins that act as a catalyst to promote combustion before the leaves are fully dry.
All the potentials are there and sooner or later, in some part of Australia, weather patterns will occur so that strong, hot, dry winds will blow from the centre of the continent after the fuel has been preconditioned by drought.

All that is needed is a spark to produce a conflagration that simply cannot be stopped until the weather moderates.

Historical perspective

Fire is not the foreigner in this country – people are.
Since European settlement, the total amount of fire in the landscape has declined.
 The first inhabitants of this country learnt that they had to break up the fuel to survive.
They burnt extensively and often.
They learnt the responses of the plants and animals to burning and took advantage of these responses to coexist.

The bushland areas and particularly those around Sydney, New South Wales, have thickened and accumulated more fuel. As a result, the infrequent fires that now occur under extreme weather burn much more intensely and have a significant impact on the built environment.

Fragmentation of the bush by different land use practices, such as urbanisation and agriculture, means that the Aboriginal fire regime is no longer possible or desirable.

However, our flora and fauna came from this regime. If we want to maintain the biodiversity in our native areas we have to accept that fire is a process that must be used to manage our native bushland.

  Fire as ecological process

We need to accept fire for what it is – an ecological process that determines the composition of our flora and fauna.
Fire is as natural as the sun and the rain.
Nothing else can replace it completely.
Nothing else produces the chemicals in the ash to stimulate new growth – or in the smoke to stimulate the flowering and regeneration of particular species.

Nothing else produces the heat pulse that removes growth-inhibiting toxins in the litter, or opens tightly-closed fruits to release new seed, or penetrates deep into the soil to stimulate the germination of long-buried seed.
Nothing else produces the succession of plant development to which our native fauna have adapted to meet their requirements for food, shelter and reproduction.

Managing fire

If we want to reduce fire intensity and make fire suppression safer and easier, we need to accept that it is the dry undergrowth and dead leaf, bark and twig litter that provides the fuel for bushfires, and use prescribed fire to reduce fuel loads.

If we want to secure our homes and property we need to zone our bushland areas so ecotypes that require frequent fire regimes are adjacent to assets of high value and thereby reduce the impact of wildfires and promote biodiversity.

We need to support the fire service and the land management agencies when there is no emergency and accept the minor inconvenience of smoke in the air when fire is prescribed for hazard reduction, forest regeneration or biodiversity management.

Finally, we need to individually take responsibility for managing the fuels we own and maintain our property and garden so that they do not burn in summer.

Clancy’s comment: I'm not a 'tree-hugging greenie'. I'm a conservationist  who likes to admire and photograph nature and animals. Looking back in history, humans do not have a good record. 
Oh, not only but also, we need to support the great number of volunteers who risk their lives and do extraordinary work to protect the rest of us.  
Just spent the morning with a close mate who gave more than 35 years as a volunteer fireman. He and another close friend spent three weeks identifying bodies for the police in Marysville after the Black Saturday fires. More strength to their arm!


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