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Victoria: bush fires « Previous | |Next »
February 8, 2009

South Australia was fortunate to escape from the bush fires as a result of the heat wave and hot north winds this last fortnight. Victoria was not so lucky:homes and towns have been devastated whilst 25-40 people (more are expected) have died. The fires were driven by hot winds of more than 100km/h, and record temperatures that peaked in the afternoon at 46.4 degrees in Melbourne and 47.9 degrees in the paddocks around Avalon.

At this stage the fire events look to be much worse that either Ash Wednesday (1983) and Black Friday (1939). If so, the fire fighters have an inferno on their hands.

BushfiresVictoria09.jpg Fire raging in the Bunyip State Park, south Gippsland, photo: Jason South

Most of the confirmed deaths were in towns northeast of Melbourne---Kinglake and Marysville, which have been wiped out. Hundreds of Victorians are returning to towns to find their homes razed by the fast moving bushfires on Saturday.

Update: 9 February
The bush fire was much worse than feared. Even though the hectares burned is much less, confirmed deaths are 126 and rising (it could double), and around 700-750 houses destroyed, with 550 of those in Kinglake, north of Melbourne. People had very little warning and many died trying to protect their homes or trying to escape the raging fires. The intense heat means some victims have been effectively cremated.

newsbushfire1jpg.jpg Vehicles on the Yea road near Kinglake came to grief during the firestorm. Photo: John Woudstra

The wind change from the north to the strong southerly in the late afternoon changed the direction of the fires outside Melbourne, pusing the flames east onto the Kinglake area, Marysville and St Andrews. In east Gippsland, the fires in the Bunyip forest burst through containment lines. In both cases there was little the firefighters could do.

It is Australia's worst natural disaster in 110 years. (In 1899, Cyclone Mahina struck Australia's northern Cape York, killing more than 400). Federal parliament has been suspended. Since arsonists are suspected all fire-devastated areas are to be treated as crime scenes to determine if arson was involved. There are still 31 active fires across Victoria as of 7.20am this morning , with five - -- at Beechworth, Churchill, Murrindindi, the Kinglake complex and Bunyip ---- causing the most concern.

What we have is the mega-fire ---several fires covering an area converging---and once they get going they cannot be stopped due to the heat intensity generated by the fire. Traditional methods of fire management---- fuel-reduction measures in the bush, big clearances around the house, stay and fight with solid defences or leave early, early warnings---were inadequate. That will not stop The Australian from using the fires to fight the culture wars against the Greens and environmentalists.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:29 AM | | Comments (23)
Comments

Comments

People who think the ABC should be sold off might like to consider the role it plays at times like this. Who else is capable of, or would bother, doing something like this

http://blogs.abc.net.au/victoria/2009/02/offer-help---or.html

Monday's AM program is broadcasting from the relief centre in the catastrophic fire area. The CFA and Department of Sustainability and Environment websites crashed on Black Saturday, and in any case they are not sufficiently clear or informative. ABC radio was a godsend for many.

There is a lot of spin coming from the CFA--- a reluctance to admit it does not have all the answers? Have we reached the limits of a volunteer fire service?

Already these are the worst fires for property damage and loss of life in Australia's history, and it's not over yet.

I can't imagine what it must be like to be trapped in your home in a firestorm, but those shots of burnt out cars really get to me. Somehow they're more hopelessly isolated.

When this is all over, the inquiries done and recommendations handed over, it would be good to see some of them legislated for a change. Esecially if we're anticipating more extreme weather in the future.

Mike Rann, the SA Premier reckons that 20% of bush fires are caused by arsonists, The editorial in The Australian says:

a report from the Australian Institute of Criminology last week estimated that of all Australian bushfires, 50 per cent were either known to have been deliberately lit or that there were suspicions they were. A further 35 per cent were accidentally started, while just 6 per cent were naturally caused. These are appalling numbers. According to the AIC, little is known about arsonists. Certainly, arson appears to be a crime mainly committed by young, poorly educated men, generally out of work or in unskilled jobs; men who have previously committed crimes and have a history of alcohol abuse. But while this hardly makes them easy to identify, what is clear is that the crime is increasing..... According to the AIC only a small proportion of arsonists are ever caught.

It says that the royal commission on the 1939 Victorian fires found they were lit by human hands.

Lyn
re your legislation point. Those properties at risk from bush fire ought to have fire shelters to provide safe haven for families. With this bush fire you were doomed if you stayed and fought the fire, or if you fled the fire. Other options are needed for mega fires--a community type response not an individualist one.

The current bushfires mean we need to look again at fire management and forest management practices. Should regular wintertime preventive burnoffs be reintroduced? Are fire trails in National Parks and State Forests being adequately maintained? Is expenditure on equipment like firebombing aircraft justified if other fire management strategies might be more effective?

I've been reading this website and found plenty of food for thought.

Gordon,
thanks for the link to the website of theBush Fire Front.I find this paragraph about why do we have these megafires disturbing. It says that:

The glib answer put forward by green activists and some academics is that it is due to global warming and we had better get used to it. These people usually display a remarkable lack of concern at the disastrous effect that large, high intensity forest fires have on all aspects of biodiversity.The BFF begs to differ. We do not believe that global warming is a factor in this situation at all. We believe it is simply a matter of mismanagement of forest land on a large scale, combined with a long period of poor land use decisions. The result has been a marked increase in the flammability of our forests and woodlands. It is true that the Eastern States have experienced a serious drought in recent years, and drought does increase fuel flammability, but droughts have always been a feature of the Australian environment.
Those who ascribe the increase in damaging forest fires to global warming simply don’t know what they are talking about.

Really? Why cannot it both both--mismanagement of forest land on a large scale, combined with a long period of poor land use decisions in the context of global warming?

Why play culture wars around the tragedy of bush fires? It is of no help to anyone.

The Bush Fire Front people definitely have environmentalists in their sight. They are the enemy.

Consider this paragraph from the 'who benefits from the megafire' section.

Who on earth might benefit from the regular occurrence of huge, hot bushfires? While the correct answer is “no-one” it is not hard to find people who use the big hot fire to their political or financial advantage. For example I have heard environmentalists portraying the recent fires in Victoria and WA as a direct consequence of global warming. They quite unambiguously assert that unless we unquestioningly adopt their political agenda on climate change, there will be more horrible bushfires. This can easily be shown to be crooked thinking, but it is an effective line because of the current hysteria about global warming.

Current hysteria about global warming when the temperatures in South Australia and Victoria are breaking all records?

Germaine Greer has an op-ed in The Times on bushfires:

The most disheartening aspect of the Kinglake disaster is that since its foundation in the 1880s the township has suffered regular bushfires, in 1926, in 1939, in the 1960s, in the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983; two years ago almost to the day 1,500 hectares were destroyed by fire, but nothing was learnt. The cause of these disasters is not global warming; still less is it arson. It is the failure to recognise that fire is an intrinsic feature of eucalypt bushland. It cannot be prevented but it can and should be managed. Unless there is a fundamental change of policy across all levels of government in Australia, there will be more and worse fires and more deaths.

By policy change she means regular burning.
In the national parks of Australia, the importance of regular burning is well understood. Elsewhere the emphasis has been on prevention. Attempting to prevent fire in most of Australia is simply postponing the inevitable. Bushland that is not burnt regularly turns into a powder keg, as the fuel load inexorably increases. When dry eucalypt woodland goes up, it explodes, turning into a veritable firestorm.

I'm not persuaded that it is just a matter of management, and has nothing to do with arson or climate change. There is going to be a lot of denial and forgetfulness of the link between climate change and these megafires.

Andrew Bolt has also been politicising these fires so it goes both ways.

Climate change aside, that eucalypts are explosions waiting to happen has always been true. That people want to live among them and we have no strategy for making that any safer is also true.

Peter's point is interesting to think about. If each of the affected communities had had access to some kind of bomb shelter arrangement, might that have made a difference?

The blame game has already started with the likes of Bolt, whether people had sufficient warning, who is to blame for land management practices. We've been through all of that before yet we still have the same problems.

Lyn
Victoria's strategy has been the decades old "stay and defend or leave early'' bushfire policy.Fire officials in Australia advised people to stay and defend homes, as most homes were damaged not by the actual firefront but burning embers blown onto roofs. Evacuation was a last resort as houses offered the best protection, the officials said, but if residents wished to leave they should evacuate well before a firefront nears.

This needs to be reviewed.

Its all starting to look like a competition to look the most concerning.

The theatre of politics and media.

Gary
here is the other anti-green side expressed by David Packham in The Australian in terms of Victoria bushfires stoked by green vote. The urban latte-sipping environmentalists are causing all these bushfires by standing in the way of sensible fuel-reduction measures says Packham:

The decision to ignore the threat has been encouraged by some shocking pseudo-science from a few academics who use arguments that may have a place in political discourse but should have no place in managing our environment and protecting it and us from the bushfire threat.

The conclusion of these academics is that high intensity fires are good for the environment and that the resulting mudslides after rains are merely localised and serve to redistribute nutrients. The purpose of this failed policy is to secure uninformed city votes. Only a few expert retired fire managers, experienced bushies and some courageous politicians are prepared to buck the decision to lock up our bush and leave it to burn

The policy is not one of locking up the bush. In Victoria it is prescribed burning in national parks to reduce the litter on the ground. It appears that much of the bush burnt was private or forestry not national parks. Packham is more interested in fighting the culture wars by attacking the latte conservationists and national parks:
The politicians who willingly accept this rubbish use it to justify the perpetuation of the greatest threat to our forests, water supplies, homes and lives in order to secure a minority green vote. They continue to throw millions (and no doubt soon billions) at ineffective suppression toys, while the few foresters and bush people who know how to manage our public lands are starved of the resources they need to reduce fuel loads. It is hard for me to see this perversion of public policy and to accept that the folk of the bush have lost their battle to live a safe life in a cared-for rural and forest environment, all because of the environmental fantasies of outraged extremists and latte conservationists.

The guy is out of touch with modern forestry practices in national parks in Victoria that are designed to reduce fuel loads. What is his solution? Cut down the bush and turn it into open paddocks?

something has to change---The CFA's advice is that people are told to stay in their houses. The house catches fire and then what? They make a run for it?

Defending the home is seen as a individual responsibility. There is no mass evacuations. But the latter is what would happen if the storm a big cyclone and not a megafire. So why are megafires treated differently to cyclones in that homeowners should get out of harm's way in extreme conditions?

Is it true that our goverment leases the Elvis Water Bombing Choppers from The United States, if so then why doesn't our goverment use our money to buy this equipment as we are sadly, constant uses of them.

Nan,
that article skates right over the point that everything went, prescribed burning or not. Or is he arguing that the victims were all greenies who loved their nature too much to manage it?

Watching some of the tv coverage there seem to be an awful lot of green trees still standing, in the middle of destroyed buildings. Was it feeding off eucalyptus vapour or something?

I agree with Germaine Greer's comments. It is ignorant to blame global warming (duh!) and it's also ignorant to blame arsonists. Arsonists are as old as prostitutes. They have always been around. The fire gets to this level because of Eucalyptus trees that are not managed properly. All the arsonists in the world working together are not able to start a fire of this size. They light it, the bush and wind does all the rest. PS - RIP Bill Hicks.

weary,
others disagree with Greer's claims about the effects of global warming.The Fire Fighters union for one---see here.

There is no such thing as Climate Change. It is a silly global lie with about as much credibility as the Y2K Virus!!!

Thomas
what is you argument for your claim that climate change is a silly global lie, given that the research conducted by natural science says otherwise?

think we should take all the money back from the victorian bush fires and spend it on poeple that need it they dont need it or deserve it