The recent fires in Victoria were driven by big fuel loads, not by the weather.
The fire danger index was a surprising low 16-20, but the high fuel loads resulted in predicted rates of spread of 0.5 kph and flame heights up to 10m.
In comparison, the fire danger index on Black Saturday 2009 reached around 130 -180. The FFDI is a measure of the speed, flame height and spotting distance.
There is a disturbing trend to:
- Leave fuel loads unmanaged,
- Blame fire crews for not doing enough, when they struggle to deal with fires driven by large fuel loads and unfavourable conditions,
- Wait for the fire to come to us (it builds momentum as we wait), and
- Blame climate change for these large and destructive fires.
We should be:
- Managing fuel loads using cool / Indigenous burning techniques that were also once used by early settlers, farmers and graziers,
- Restore the engagement of farmers and other land owners in early suppression options like tanker trailers and slip-on firefighting units,
- Invest in early fire detection technologies like fire towers and scanning equipment (smoke, heat and other fire detection systems have reduced the frequency and severity of structural / building fires)
- Once fuel loads are better managed, we can get back to basic firefighting techniques to help reduce the size of these fires.
It is the fuel loads that create the biggest problem.
Bunyip fire crews defended amid criticism not enough was done to protect property
By Freya Michie
VIDEO: CFA chief officer Steve Warrington said critics “didn’t understand 101 firefighting”. (ABC News)
Victorian emergency authorities have defended firefighters involved in battling a series of serious bushfires in the state’s east, after criticism from some residents that they did not do enough to protect property.
Some residents of Bunyip in Gippsland said Country Fire Authority (CFA) firefighters were not present to help them as the bushfire approached.
The state’s Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Lisa Neville, said the criticism would be a “kick in the guts” to firefighters.
“I want to offer both mine and the government’s 100 per cent support to our volunteers, our career firefighters … who absolutely did an extraordinary job over the weekend and are still doing that right now,” Ms Neville said.
“I can not believe how they would feel now hearing that sort of criticism that’s coming, it must be a kick in the guts to them.”
Critics ‘don’t understand firefighting 101’
The minister’s strong defence of firefighters was backed up by the CFA’s chief officer, Steve Warrington.
“We’ve had a number of examples where people have said ‘hey, the CFA didn’t turn-up’,” he said.
“I can tell you, our priority is our crew safety and indeed the safety of the public.
“We do not support or condone any of the messages that criticise CFA efforts,” he said.
Mr Warrington said he believed the messages were a reflection on people who “don’t understand 101 firefighting”.
“When fires are so intense and really hot and burning hard, one of our priorities is crew safety,” he said.
“While it’s terribly disappointing, my heart goes out to those that have lost properties, have lost animals and stock, I get that, but we will continue every day to make sure that that damage is reduced.”
Emergency Management Victoria’s commissioner Andrew Crisp had warned communities they could not expect “a fire truck at every house” due to the scale and ferocity of the blaze.
“We well and truly are focused on keeping our community safe and without a doubt, our people are doing a fantastic job on the ground,” he said.
The senior emergency authorities stressed the dangerous conditions fire crews faced in the hot and unpredictable conditions, with fallen trees blocking roads.
‘We fought it on our own’
The strong defence of crews followed comments on Tuesday from some Bunyip locals expressing disappointment in the CFA.
Rex Newton, who lost his Bunyip home in the blaze, said there were no firefighters to help him defend his property.
“The only people that came in here were the local CFA blokes in the white uniforms, driving little white vehicles, that came in and said ‘you haven’t got long, do you want to evacuate?’ And I said ‘no’, and that was it,” he said.
Mr Newton later evacuated his property after he said the bushfire arrived at “unbelievable” speed and destroyed his home.
Herald Sun cartoonist Mark Knight, whose farm borders the Bunyip State Park, told Melbourne radio station 3AW he did not see firefighters in the area.
“Black Saturday there were CFA crews everywhere around here and I actually had tankers on my property supporting me and that was good because they stopped all the spot fires jumping in,” he said.
“I don’t know why, nobody in Tonimbuk saw CFA tankers around here, we fought it on our own, maybe the boys and girls were busy elsewhere, but I know a big property that went up just a kilometre to the west of me … they were hitting that from everything from the air.
“I love the CFA, but I didn’t see them on my place yesterday, I think they were busy elsewhere.”
Mr Crisp said nine houses had been destroyed in the weekend fires, with 23 outbuildings and one house damaged.
Authorities said the fire risk was not over, however the immediate threat has eased somewhat.
Emergency warnings have been downgraded to watch and act messages for the township of Dargo and surrounding communities and for towns in the path of the fire at Licola, including Boisdale, Briagolong, Bushy Park, and Valencia Creek.