As is normal these days, the blame game is already being waged in the wake of the most recent 2018 Californian bushfires. On the one hand are the doomsdayers who claim the fires are a result of climate change. At the other end of the spectrum are those blaming “environmental terrorists” for preventing effective pre-fire management, such as forest thinning and fuel-reduction burning.
On Thursday 6th September 2018 – VFFA president, Mick Holton spoke to Shoalhaven CBF Radio (Chance, Barry and Frenchy)
We spoke about:
1. Minister Troy Grant and Acting Commissioner Malcolm Connellan launching the arrival of our first Large Air Tanker (LAT) for the NSW fire season at Richmond RAAF Base.
2. Our failure to recognise the simplicity of a re-engagement to the bush, a reconnect with country that can save us huge amounts of money and more importantly, a return to cultural burning has the potential to restore the environment to a healthy status.
3. The bullying enquiry.
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.
The elephant in the room is fuel.
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
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.
The Bega Valley Fires Independent Review was commissioned by the NSW State Government in response to public pressure and media interest in the Reedy Swamp Fire that occurred on 18 March 2018, and subsequently impacted on the township of Tathra.
The media reported a long-standing turf war between the two predominant fire services in NSW and the Minister for Police and Emergency Services responded with an announcement that Mr Keelty will be conducting a full review for the government so that we don’t get these questions in the future.
The VFFA welcomes any opportunity to openly and transparently review and debate topics that impact upon public safety and the provision of emergency services to the people of NSW.
This post contains the VFFA response to this review other related documentation.
Are we Forgetting Something?
There is no disputing that aviation plays a vital role in our firefighting capability, but is the state government spending too much time and taxpayers money developing RFS capability whilst they are neglecting the simple principles of mitigation, early detection and suppression using their vast network of volunteer firefighters on the ground.
When it comes to fire suppression, the VFFA is not convinced that large fixed wing aircraft are the answer. We do support using smaller fixed wing aircraft and helicopters for transportation of remote area fire teams (RAFT) and to support ground crews with aerial suppression activities.
With reference to fixed wing aircraft, it should be noted that a fire retardant drop using a DC10 (Very Large Air Tanker – VLAT) costs us $45,000 per drop. Operation of helicopters for firefighting activities is significantly cheaper.
Whilst we acknowledge that this helicopter aquisition has the potential to enhance the states remote area response reach and capability, but we must not neglect the resources that we already have.
It has also been suggested that the money could have been invested into fire towers and early detection systems that have the potential to alert firefighters of a fire before it becomes too large.
On a day topping 30 degrees in tinder-dry bush at Haunted Point, Indigenous elder Sonny Timbery is showing a group of teenage boys how to light fires.
“The knowledge is held within the landscape. Once we learn how to read that landscape and interpret that knowledge, that’s when we can apply those fire practices.”
Firefighters from the NSW Rural Fire Service watch as the teenagers use firesticks made from bark to ignite leaf litter that has accumulated on a ridge above the Shoalhaven River.
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.