Were our recent bushfires the equivalent of an ice age? What does this mean for Australia and the rest of the world? Will the after-effects have a prolonged impact on our future?
Nightline’s Philip Clark in conversation with Stephen Pyne, Emeritus Professor at Arizona State University, specializing in environmental history, the history of exploration, and especially the history of fire. Also the author of Burning Bush: A Fire History of Australia.
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.
Forty years ago in April 1978, Cyclone Alby brought one of Western Australia’s worst storm and bushfire crises to the South-west and Great Southern regions. Both were severely hit. Five lives were lost in the storm and dozens injured. Hundreds of houses were burned down or damaged, thousands of hectares of farms were burnt, stock killed and orchards and plantations smashed. The entire region was paralysed as roads were blocked by fallen trees and power lines. Power and telephones were out for up to a week.
At the time, few people imagined that a Category 5 Tropical Cyclone would ever hit the South-west and the community was caught entirely by surprise.
This book by forester and Bushfire Front Chairman Roger Underwood is the first to undertake a thorough analysis of the event. What happened and why, what were the impacts and costs? What are the lessons for the future?
This book is available at a cost of $40 posted. email: firstname.lastname@example.org