Kurrajong Heights RFB Captain, Brian Williams talks to Jane Marwick on 31st December 2019.
Brian, when last we spoke it was a couple of weeks ago and you had been out fighting the fires for weeks. How are you and what is the latest?
Good, thank you Jane and nothing has changed, still exactly doing exactly the same thing. This Gospers Mountain fire is just an enormous fire now. It’s over half a million hectares. It is extremely destructive both to people and the environment. The environment is taking one hell of a canning out of this and it is all preventable.
This is the tragedy of it all, it is all preventable.
You know Brian, you were the first person who told me and then I spoke to Vic Jurskis about it and scientist David Packham. You are the first person who said to me the intensity of these fires burns the humus content in the soil right down to the mineral layer and you then told me that then it will rain because we have the flooding rains after the droughts and that topsoil is washed away and floods into the creeks and clogs them up. It’s absolute degradation, isn’t it?
Absolutely and the silly thing is we, you know, smart people learn from their mistakes and our governments aren’t learning a thing. We just keep repeating this process every 15 or 20 years. We get the same result and nothing changes and that’s the disappointing thing and it’s not going to change, I don’t believe until the general public say enough is enough.
We want something better and they’re certainly, we’ve got the people with the knowledge to fix the system, but unfortunately, they are not listened to by politicians.
No, they’re not Brian. Now. You’re a volunteer firefighter with which Brigade.
And what’s your role there?
I’m the captain?
I thought you might be.
Brian, how long have you been fighting that Gospers Mountain Fire?
I think it’s into our ninth week. Now.
You’re remarkable. You guys are just remarkable. We are you such a tremendous debt.
It’s volunteers. It’s just a job to be done and we’ll be there until it’s over but it is an enormous strain and one of the things we face now the fires we face now a much more dangerous than they need to be on what they used to be.
The intensity of the fires we are getting now is just enormous and our workplace is becoming a very very dangerous place to be.
Brian, we’ve seen a loss of life since you and I spoke is absolutely heartbreaking to see these young men perishing. We saw an older farmer perish. It is just devastating, isn’t it?
It is, absolutely I mean to the volunteers the three volunteers we’ve lost it’s just you know, our heart goes out to them the father and son. I mean, it’s just a tragedy and it all these preventable. That’s the crazy thing. It’s all preventable.
So when you say preventable Brian, I hate to take you back to this, but I have to keep, Alan Jones says you have to repeat and repeat and repeat a message is absolutely right because people ring into me and say, oh Jane is green tape. Did you know that there’s a fuel load.
This fire has been building for the last 20 years. We’ve been burning in NSW less than 1% of our Bushfire prone lands for the last 20 years. So that means every year the fuel loads just continue to build and they continue to build until we get a disaster like this.
It doesn’t matter how many airplanes we have, how much manpower, how many trucks we can’t put these fires out. They’re just beyond beyond human capability to put out.
How long have you been fighting fires for Brian?
Has the situation got worse in the 52 years you’ve been fighting fires?
Yes, definitely got worse.
I mean once upon a time, a lot of our areas of our national parks used to be a forested country and the sawmillers had a sustainable industry and they used to manage the bush they used to do a lot of the hazard reduction burning, people tracks open and because they value timber, timber was important. Now, we’ve closed them all the forest industry down virtually.
We’ve locked up the parks we don’t let people into them. We’ve closed all the trails off and our timber just gets burnt and wasted and meanwhile overseas they’re cutting down rainforests to supply Australia with timber. I mean how crazy is that?
And we’re destroying not just the flora, but also the fauna and Brian, David Packham says it, Victor Jurskis says it, Roger Underwood says it from the Bushfire Front. The Aboriginal Australians burnt all the time, cool Burns.
The animals had time to get away because you didn’t have the build-up of those explosive eucalyptus leaves, the logs, the branches, the bark. You didn’t get those big hot fires. So for a fire you need oxygen, you need hot weather, you need wind and you need fuel. The one thing we can control Brian tell me it’s the fuel isn’t it?
Yep, and it’s pretty simple to control it too.
Just for all the people who are buying into climate change, if we could cool the world tomorrow, press the button to cool the world by two degrees, it would make virtually no difference to the outcome of these fires.
What is making the difference is the fuel loads and just to give you an example of that, if you compare the intensity of a fire in 15 year old fuels say compared to four year old fuels the intensity of the fire, given the same conditions in the in the fifteen-year-old fuels will be approximately 17 times hotter than what the fire would be in the four-year-old fuels so that’s why we can’t control them.
You know, the rate that we are doing hazard reduction burning. It will take us more than a hundred years to treat the bush fire prone lands in this state once.
Brian, it’s extraordinary. I could talk to you forever. Thank you. Thank you for the work that you’re doing. I will check in again with you next week. Please have some rest. I’m not going to even bother wishing you a happy New Year because I know that that’s that’s not even a thing.
I’m going to be asleep, I can tell you.
Hey Brian, thank you. You’re an absolute gentleman I’ll check in again with you next week. Thank you.
The remarkable Brian, the Captain of the Kurrajong Heights Fire Brigade.