By Vic Jurskis (Feature Photo and Video Link: You Tube – Helmreich Joinery)
In autumn 1968, CSIRO and New South Wales Bushfire Council carried out only the second aerial hazard reduction burn in NSW, in Vacant Crown Land that is now National Park and Wilderness. Danny Christopher, the Fire Control Officer reckoned that the burn saved Bega in spring that year. Other parts of the state had a devastating fire season. Fourteen people died, 156 homes and buildings were lost and a million hectares were incinerated. Later on, wildfires in the rough country between Bemboka and Brogo in 1986 and 1988 were contained by backburning from the network of fire trails constructed by the Bush Fire Council.
Another wildfire started in this area on 15thAugust 2018. Just as well it happened when it did. After 30 days of fire control operations using ground crews and water-bombing helicopters, under mostly favourable conditions, crews were evacuated in anticipation of extreme winds on Saturday 15thSeptember. A house, several sheds and possibly some livestock were lost. Conditions eased with a southwesterly change. On Sunday a Rural Fire Service airtanker commenced bombing operations with fire retardant from its base in Sydney.
Are modern firefighting agencies inciting fear as a method of risk management rather than applying appropriate risk control measures?
Fear is a powerful tool, it sells newspapers, keeps the television ratings alive, gives our radio stations some great material to talk about and it helps to drive campaigns to increase public spending on reactive and expensive firefighting strategies that we simply cannot afford.
Image if we could return to a situation where our local firefighters looked after their own patch without the red tape associated with hazard reduction. Image how nice it would be if our land management practices were returned to a commonsense and balanced approach that our Indigenous Australians, farmers and graziers have used in the past.
Instead of cooking the guts out of the country, we could see improved forest health and reduced risk to our native animals and the bush that we love so much.
Instead, we see another story that warns us of a bleak bushfire outlook. There is no mention of the massive fuel loads that are the root cause of this problem.
As I pursue my passion for bushfire safety I am frequently confronted by people who live in bushfire-prone residential situations but who make no preparations for fire. When I ask why, they say that they are not worried. “If a fire comes, I will simply evacuate” they say, “and if the house burns, I have insurance and will just rebuild”. This philosophy is usually based on the fear that preparing for bushfires (especially fuel reduction in bushland) means “destroying the environment”.
Several things have not been thought-through…
The recent bushfires in NSW are not in “mid winter”, where they occurred as suggested by many.
The bushfire season in mid-NSW always starts earlier than in southern Australia, with bushfires around Sydney and in the Blue Mountains historically occurring at this time of the year.
People forget how far north Sydney is (latitude), being closer to a sub-tropical than a temperate climate.
Every year when there are bushfires around Sydney in August or Sept, the cry goes out “Climate Change! Bushfires in mid-winter!”, while history and climatic zones are ignored.
On page 20 of the textbook, Bush Fire Control in Australia (1961), there is an excellent map of Australia showing the bushfire seasons. South-eastern Qld and central coastal NSW are clearly shown as having an occasional August / September fire season start.
It is worth noting that the weather varies from year to year, the diagram shows the average situation.
When you take notice of the date that this textbook was published (well over 50 years ago), these fires are nothing new. The intensity of the fires is increasing because of fuel loads and the drought in NSW will impact upon bushfire conditions.
Why don’t we listen to Indigenous land management experts?
In the Bega Valley Fires Independent Review, there was no mention of the case study where the Tathra fires did not burn previously treated, cultural burn areas.
There has been no follow up at all (with the Aboriginal Land Council or the Indigenous People) on how we can extend that outcome.
Indigenous People are burning country on the South Coast right now in a bid to prevent wild fires to the land just like Tathra example and healing it with native vegetation instead of dead leaves and rubbish.
These young Indigenous people are only in their early twenties and already ten times more connected to the country than most of the so called experts on fire mitigation.
They are doing all this with no wage, no vehicles, and no fire fighting equipment at all.
There are young Indigenous people in Tathra burning the effected areas right now to prevent invasive native regrowth which makes the country full of fuel to make the next fires in ten years far worse.
This is the first project of its kind in modern history in recovery of torched country.
Victor Steffensen has been burning all over Australia this year, have said “the window to burn is huge if you know how to read the country. You mob gotta stop leaving us and the land out of the conversation”.
The RFS Commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons challenges aspects of the Independent Review into the Bega Valley Bushfires.
At the heart of the book are memoirs collected from people who were there at the time: the firefighters, farmers, foresters, ambos, nurses, school bus drivers, policemen, timber workers, orchardists, fishermen, wives and children. The stories are dramatic and exciting, often heart-breaking and poignant, even in one or two instances humorous. They speak of the courage, resilience, toughness and selflessness of rural West Australians. You will feel proud to read these stories and you will recognise many of the people who wrote them.
In the interest of promoting an open and honest debate, the VFFA has decided to publish our submission. We hope that other groups will do the same.
The VFFA is somewhat disappointed in the way that this inquiry has been handled as follows:
1. The timeframes for groups to make submissions was very short and rushed
2. The information regarding the review was not actively promoted by the NSW State Government, and
3. What is happening with the referral of this fire to the Coroner?
One could be excused for thinking that the NSW State Government just wants these problems to go away, particularly with an election just around the corner.
The VFFA is promoting open debate from all persons involved. This includes the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS), Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW), NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), Forestry Corporation of NSW, the Rural Fire Service Association (RFSA), the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association (VFFA), the Fire Brigades Employees Union (FBEU), the insurance companies and most importantly, the firefighters (from all fire services) and the public of NSW.
Click the Read More link to see the VFFA submission.
Ecological burning does not have to be completed by firefighters. Farmers have been conducting agricultural burning for a long time without strict regulation.
The right fire can be good for the environment and prevent destruction.
Private landowners, groups like Landcare and other similar organisations that care for our environment could get involved in hazard reduction and ecological burning. Local brigades could then provide a single truck with a small crew to assist. This would become less of a logistical burden to our volunteer firefighters.
You don’t need PPE for super low intensity burning (cool burns), just sensible clothing.
We are pleased to announce the inaugural South-east Australia Aboriginal Fire Forum to be hosted by ACT Natural Resource Management (ACT NRM) and ACT Parks and Conservation Service (ACT PCS).
The Forum, titled Cultural Burning: Evolving with community and Country, will give participants the opportunity to network, learn, and establish collaborations with others committed to cultural burning and caring for Country. The Forum will be held on Ngunnawal Country at the Ann Harding Centre, University of Canberra, Bruce, ACT from Thursday 10 to Friday 11 May 2018 and will be followed by a demonstration field day on Saturday 12 May 2018. Keynote speakers include:
Bruce Pascoe—author and historian.
Dean Freeman—ACT Fire Management Unit.
Terrence Taylor—Jigija Indigenous Fire Training Program.
Victor Steffensen—Mulong Indigenous Fire Management.
To help celebrate the Forum we invite you to attend a networking dinner hosted by Steven Oliver on the evening of 10 May 2018.
Registrations to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members are free. Please note that spaces are limited and are aimed at those who are available to attend the whole three days.