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living with fire « Previous | |Next »
February 11, 2009

Stephen Pyne is the author of The Still-Burning Bush. In that book, which builds on his earlier Burning Bush: Fire History of Australia, he argued the following narrative.

Australia's landscape was shaped by Aboriginal fire-stick farming; colonisers sought to suppress fire but eventually were forced to adapt to it; the resulting fire-stick forestry was a singular achievement of science and administration; new environmentalism has unraveled fire-stick forestry; active burning needs to be at the centre of the new approach based on the twin pillars of fire-stick ecology and risk management.

Moirbushfre.jpg

Pyne has an op-ed in The Australian in which he says that Australia seems to have gotten the basics of fighting bush fires right:

It developed many key concepts of fire ecology and models of bushfire behaviour. It pioneered landscape-scale prescribed burning as a method of bushfire management. It devised the protocol for structure protection in the bush, especially the ingenious stratagem of leaving early or staying, preparing and defending. In recent decades it has beefed up active suppression capabilities and emergency services.

Despite this, Pyne says, Australia keeps enduring the same Sisyphean cycle of calamitous conflagrations in the same places because it isn't translating what it knows into its practices. So what needs to be done?

Alas Pyne disappoints. He says:

With or without global warming or arson, damaging fires will come, spread as the landscape allows and inflict damage as structures permit. And it is there - with how Australians live on the land - that reform must go. Australia will have fire, and it will recycle the conditions that can leverage small flames into holocausts. The choice is whether skilled people should backburn or leave fire-starting to lightning, clumsies and crazies.

If it is not possible to remake the burning bush into an unburnt Oz as Pyne argues, then those who live in the bush (including the treechangers) will have to build houses that provide a much greater defence against bush fire: more firebreaks, concrete bunkers, and much higher building codes.This is where the states--SA, Victoria, ACT and NSW---are to be found wanting.

The states have have been very slow in moving towards more realistic building codes because of the extra expense and the resistance of the building industry. So we have the common practice of building flammable houses in fire-prone bush. Wooden framed houses in the bush should be a no no. Brrumby's longstanding opposition to any changes that would make housing more expensive is not persuasive.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:29 AM | | Comments (5)
Comments

Comments

Baggs,Sydney A., Baggs, Joan C. & Baggs, David W., Australian Earth-covered Building, New South Wales University Press, NSW Aus, 1991 ISBN 0868400602

For those interested- see Pyne's full and unedited take on the causes and issues surrounding the fires in the following article:
http://fhsarchives.wordpress.com/2009/02/10/historian-stephen-j-pyne-on-the-australian-fires/

Bruce,
thanks for that. Pyne's main point is the linked post is this:

The reason for the fires is simple. Australia is a fire continent: it is built to burn. To this general combustibility its southeast adds a pattern of seasonal winds, associated with cold fronts that draft scorching, unstable air from the interior across whatever flame lies on the land. At such times the region becomes a colossal fire flume that fans flames which for scale and savagery have no equal elsewhere on Earth.

But he doesn't really tell us how to live with fire apart from controlled burning. He says that this is accepted β€œin principle,” but that there always seems a reason not to burn in this place or at this time. So the burning gets outsourced to lightning, accident, and arson.

Meika,
earth covered concrete bunkers would be one option if you wanted to live in the bush, that is for for sure. It would provide the protection you needed until the fire past, then you could emerge to put out the embers to save the house.You would need to ensure some form of oxygen supply whilst in the bunker.

David Nicols in The Age says re rebuilding devastated towns:

The question again rears its ugly head as to whether we are smart to let our cities sprawl into that flammable and, many say, unsustainable leafy rural-urban mix at the edges. It's here where many of us are vulnerable; closer, less rambling and more designed urban landscapes may well prove safer β€” as well as more environmentally friendly β€” in the 21st century.

He says that there are definitely arguments for building to resist fire wherever possible; the fireproof version of the "panic room", for instance, standing as one component of a house that residents can use as a last resort. Similarly, there is an argument for the creation of a stronger culture of clearing around homes and building them further apart from one another.