Sydney's fires - a short story

Pacific Edge Permaculture + Media pacedge at
Sat Dec 29 06:20:48 EST 2001

From: Bob Howard <rmhoward at>
Reply-To: "permaculture" <permaculture at>
Date: Thu, 27 Dec 2001 16:28:52 +0800
To: "permaculture" <permaculture at>
Subject: Re: Sydney's fires - a short story
Who needs terrorists when you've got bushfires, ehh?

Burning off is not going to save people from the extreme fire weather which
will jump any freeway, climb any mountain,

So true! The 1994 bushfires in Royal National Park literally leapt across
areas that were only shortly before control-burned, as well as asphalt roads
(I remember the swirling pattern burned into the Bundeena road where a
firefront had scorched it and the similar lay of burned vegetation on the
other side of the road).

Anyway, spot fires started by burning cinders that are lifted up and descend
well in front of the firefront - up to a couple kilometres - make a mockery
of firebreaks.

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.

A fact verified by the December 2001 fires around Sydney,  where seven
arsonists have now been arrested (adults facing up to 14 years in prison
under NSW law) and where one was seen lighting up the bush across the road
from residences in the Blue Mountains.

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 recover.

Following the January 1994 fires in Royal National Park (15 000 hectares of
eucalypt forest, areas of rainforest and heathland on the Sydney southern
fringe), some species have recovered but the Greater Glider population
(Greater Gliders are large possums with membranes enabling them to glide
from tree to tree - the tall eucalypts that are their home) - was very low
or, possibly, locally extinct. The gliders inhabited the tall eucalypt and
rainforest along the banks of the Hacking River, which traverses the
national park, and which was sheltered at the bottom of a valley, the sides
of which support a forest of inflammable eucalypt forest. I don't know the
fate of the Sugar Glider which usually lives in lower vegetation.

Now that 80% of the park has again been burned, and with the forecast for
tomorrow of temperatures in the low 40's (celcius) and strong southerly
winds raising fears that the townships of Bundeena and Maianbar, as well as
the remaining20% of the park, will go, the fate of the Greater Glider may be

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).

In Royal National Park, it is coastal heath that covers the plateau tops
behind the beaches and coastal cliffs - fire literally roars through this
ecosystem at great speed.

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 .

In NSW it would be daring and controversial to claim these weed control
methods and bush regeneration as a 'permaculture' practice (although I
promote them as strategies for use in regenerating zone five bushland
systems). The bush regeneration folk  - not all of them  - are generally
critical of permaculture, some of them saying that permaculturists are
responsible for introducing 'weeds' into the Australian bush.  They are hard
pressed to offer any direct evidence of this, of course! The real culprits
when it comes to 'weed'  invasion are exotic plant escapes from home gardens
and the source of those escapes - commercial nurseries - if you want to
point a finger.

Well, the national park and urban-edge bushland is again burned trunks and
grey ash, but, again, it will come back and all will be green in these
fire-adapted ecologies in six month's time. Maybe not so the large fauna,
though, like the gliders that inhabit the trees. Wallabies and 'roos, if
they have a way out and are fast enough, can outrun fire; birds can simply
fly away; for possums, bandicootts and wombats, the story may be different.

...Russ Grayson

...Russ Grayson

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