Sydney's fires - a short story

Bob Howard rmhoward at
Thu Dec 27 03:28:52 EST 2001


Who needs terrorists when you've got bushfires, ehh? The fires in Sydney took back to
1994 when the last big fires happened. As it happened I organised a "Fire Aid" concert
to raise money for WIRES over here in Albany W.A. Of course it was as much a benefit
to the local music scene of the time in terms of exposure not to mention my own band
of reggae and suburban rockers.

At the time I had written a paper for an enquiry into CALM's bush fire policy. It was
ignored but I think that the level of debate and understanding about bush fire control
is much more advanced in .W.A. than it is in N.S.W.. The debate here is not about
whether one should control burn - but how often? And in which season? And to what

Although it is the last question that is usually the least addressed by whitefellas -
it was the primary question addressed by Noongar people. The eucalyptus landscape of
much of temperate Australia is an artificial landscape that has been created by the
use of fire and rain by Aboriginal  Australians for the most part.

Rain magic is, of course, still a bit beyond the ken of most European trained
thinkers. But understanding meteorology is useful. The south west does not experience
the high intensity weather conditions of the the south east because north westerly
windows like the Brickfielder that bring days of 15% humidity and gusting winds come
from over the ocean in the west rather than the desert.

Burning off is not going to save people from the extreme fire weather which will jump
any freeway, climb any mountain, la- la-de-da ... sorry getting carried away a bit
there :-|

So good old Uncle Bill's basic lessons in 1960's fire proofing have to be learnt and
relearnt. See Permaculture 1

As to burning off itself. CALM burns off vast tracts of forest in W.A. miles from
anywhere but most of the fires that threaten life and lm start off in small acreage of
bush near to town sites. These sites are usually favoured by arsonists who make up
about 50% plus of most bush fires.

In actual experiments done in coastal heath and scrub in the Fitzgerald River National
Park following wildfire's. Insectivorous birds and mammals recover quickly within 3 or
four years e.g. bandicoots. Possums and nectar eating birds take about 15 years to

Fuel loads in heathlands take only a few years to build up to explosive levels (mainly
because they are structurally suited to fire, all those twigs and stunted shrubs).

Burning on a six to seven year cycle is just about manageable in terms of the average
fire crew/council workers team's expertise to control the burn.

Cooperative approaches with grass roots involvement in burning off regimes are
essential. It took CALM a good decade to develop effective communication with farmers
around the Stirlng Ranges National Park which resulted in the Park being nearly wiped
out on three occasions in the last 15 years.

IMHO there are 'permaculture' style solutions - the bushland management skills that
have been developed in the last 20 odd years are Permaculture in practice if not in
name. e.g. the Bradley method of weed control . A regional or shire level approach to
fire control using basic permaculture tools such as zoning, border management etc.
could be developed as a best practice model and could be a worthwhile response to fire
management. You just have to get the political support - well yeah- Hmm...I'm open to

Bob Howard

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