Saturday, February 6, 2010

Bushfires, over-reacting or too complacent?

Some are saying we're over-reacting to what was a one-off event that was the horrific Black Saturday bushfires.
Not a one-off event if you look at our history of bushfires it wasn't.
So, does this mean we're over-reacting or just too complacent or perhaps too ignorant to learn from our bushfire history?
*NB These are only the fires that occurred in Victoria, not the many thousands through the rest of Oz.
  • Black Thursday, 6 Feb, 1851. 5 million hectares burnt, 12 dead.
  • Black Monday, 27th Feb, 1865. Line of fire from Geelong to Ballarat, with more at Daylesford.
  • Red Tuesday , 1 Feb, 1898. 260,000 hectares burnt. 12 dead.
  • 1912. Fires stretched from Gippsland to the Grampians.
  • 1914. 100,000 hectares burnt.
  • 1919 Otway Ranges suffered extensive fires.
  • Black Sunday Feb-March 1926. Fires through Gippsland, Noojee, Kinglake, Dandenongs. 60 dead.
  • 1932  Dec 21,1931 - Feb 6, 1932. 307 fires through Vic, 206,000 hectares burnt, 9 dead.
  • Black Friday 13 Jan, 1939.2 million hectares burnt, 71 dead.
  • 1943 10 dead in fires near Wangaratta.
  • 1944 1 million hectares, 32 dead, including 50 houses in Beaumaris and Mentone.
  • 1952 10 dead.
  • 1962 14-16 Jan. North and east of Melb, Dandenong Ranges, 33 dead.
  • 1965 Feb 21. 300,000 hectares burnt in Gippsland.
  •         Jan 17, 7 dead at Longwood.
  • 1968 Feb 19 , 53 houses burnt in Dandenongs.
  • 1969 Jan 8, fires through Lara, Dulgana, Yea, Darraweit, Kangaroo Flat, Korongvale. 23 dead.
  • 1972 Dec 14, 7,400 hectares burnt Mt Buffalo.
  • 1977 Feb 12. Fires throughout Western District, town of Streatham almost destroyed. 5 dead.
  • 1980 Dec 28 - Jan 6, 1981. 119,000 hectares burnt in Sunset Country and Big Desert.
  • 1983 Jan 31. Cann River 250,000 hectares burnt.
  •         Feb 1. 8,000 hectares burnt Mt Macedon.
  • Ash Wednesday 16 Feb, 1983. 420,000 hectares burnt, 75 dead.
  • 1985 Jan 14 Central Vic 51,000 hectares burnt, 3 dead.
  • 1997 Jan 21. 400 hectares burnt, 3 dead, Gippsland, Dandenong Ranges, Eildon, Creswick.
  • 1997-1998 Dec 31 -Jan 9. 32,000 hectares burnt Alpine National Park.
  • Linton Bushfire Dec 2, 1998. 660 hectares burnt. CFA crew caught in fire, 5 dead.
  • 2002 Dec. 181,400 hectares burnt in Big Desert and Wyperfield National Parks.
  • 2003 8 Jan-8 March Eastern Vic Alpine fires.1.3 million hectares burnt.
  • 2005. Jan. 160,000 hectares burnt Stawell, Grampians, Yea, Kinglake, 4 dead.
  • The Great Divide fires. 1 Dec 2006 -7 Feb 2007. 1,048,000 hectares burnt, 1,400 fireys injured.
  • Black Saturday, 7th Feb 2009. 173 dead. 411,239 hectares burnt. Whole towns destroyed.


  1. Wow. That list kinda stops you in your tracks, doesn't it? Where do you get all these facts and figures Jayne?

    Most bushies up this way (not all, but most) think that the ONLY way to handle fire, is to reduce fuel pre-emptively. That is - to burn off or at least slash BEFORE the fire season. It is a fact that fire CANNOT take hold when there is no dry matter to ignite.

    I wonder if we will ever learn?

  2. Bush Babe, I have heard arguments from both sides about burning off. It will be interesting to hear what the royal commission has to say about the matter.

  3. Not sure about over-reaction. Over-reaction would be strapping a bucket full of water to your head wherever you went. Under-reaction, on the other hand, would be sitting in your armchair watching Neighbours while the curtains burned. What you have here is probably a necessary debate...although one, no doubt, hijacked by the Australian media and turned into an over-hyped, good-against-evil farce if our own media's anything by which to judge.

  4. Wow - I knew of a few of these (and remember Ash Wednesday) but it is truly mind-boggling.

    The reason that you guys have bushfires a lot worse than up here - besides the fuel reduction policies - is because you have such a different weather pattern than us also.

    It seems that nature is trying to teach us a lesson - pity we can't learn from previous Royal Commissions before we have to hold this one (or, heaven forbid, hold future ones).

  5. There's been screaming from the bushies down south here for more fuel reduction, too, BB, for years now.
    I think I read somewhere (I may be wrong so I'm happy to stand corrected) that the full fuel reduction capacity has never been achieved since the 1939 Black Friday Royal Commission.

    Andrew, I'm all for cold (slow) burn-offs for fuel reduction; gives animals the chance to escape, reduces the fuel load, etc.

    Brian, yes the media has hijacked it but if it can force The Powers That Be to invest funding into managing the vast spread of national parks and preventative fire measures, then I'm all for it.

    Jeanie, we've also got a 'lock it up and leave it' mentality to state and national parks (filled to the brim with noxious weeds and dry fuel) with fewer park rangers working on less funding each year while the funding for fuel load reduction measures get smaller, too.

  6. Not that fire ecology is my specialty, but as an ecologist (albeit a tropical Qld systems one which is a slightly different kettle of fish to the southern Australian garden variety ecologist) to me the most sense is a mosaic burn - slow fuel reduction burns in a mosaic pattern to allow bushland to be in various states of fire ecology at the same time which can enable species conservation for a wider range of species.

  7. We used to burn off every year where I grew up. It was the done thing. We all got out and helped the CFA do it.. kids and all.
    At my nans we used to burn back the blackberries, darstedly bloody things they were.. but again, we were out there as a family doing it. Lighting the flames with the kero lighter thingy and damping out the fire with a hessian bag on a was fun and was the done thing.

    My Aunt has a clearing because they made it years ago..before the greenies started the riot act...and now my young cousins dont have a clearing, because of the riot act...and so they just clear what they can that is around their home and burn it in Winter.

    We certainly have a history of fires...such is the way with Down Under. I dunno, our forefathers..Aboriginal peoples, used the fires for good. There is a time for fire and I guess we should all know it. Living in such closeness to it all and all that.
    I'm dribbling coz i am tired...I better go to bed. The alarm wakes me at 545am :(

  8. Yep, Amanda, theoretically they still attempt mosaic burns but somehow things aren't quite as planned years ago.

    Cazzie, it's all just commonsense.
    Actually the early explorers and settlers described areas now covered in spindly Mountain Ash and eucalypt forests as being like traditional English Parks with huge shade trees, grassy bed clearings beneath yet the greenies seem to think it can be returned to an ideal that may or may not have existed before the arrival, and advent of firestick farming, of our Indigenous People more than 60,000 years ago!
    Hope you got some sleep ;)

  9. Add me to the list of people who believe in fuel reduction. the trouble with that nowadays is the conservationists who are determined to preserve EVERY. LITTLE. HABITAT. while completely ignoring the fact that people's lives are in danger. It's one reason not to build in the country/bush areas. If people were allowed to clear their land when putting up a house, maybe more people could build in those areas and reduce the strain on city resources. But this raises another issue. If you wish to build in remote or semi-remote areas, where is the necessary water supply going to come from? The government of the day (any government-any day) refuses to construct such important things as dams and pipelines.

  10. Exactly, River.
    And as to your last point - ironic the Vic state govt found the wherewithal to construct a $750 million pipeline to take water away from the rural areas for the city!

  11. There is actually a subspecialty in the forestry management field: controlled burn offs. Learning how to use fire to prevent bigger more costly, deadly fires. I'm not an expert by any means, but it makes a great deal of sense, and it seems to be effective. It is most commonly used out west. It's not usually so dry in our forests.

    And for the record, I don't think it's over reacting. Those pictures horrified a world.

  12. Hi Debby :)
    Yep, the controlled burn offs are very effective and make for a great deal of commonsense.

  13. Gah - there's no such thing as "returning to the ideal state". Ecology is always in flux ... even "stable" ecology should be in flux.
    We are having a different debate in these parts as to mangroves on the foreshaw - apparently they never used to be there so we should cut them down ... apparently. I tried telling them that their $$$$$ houses never used to be there either so we should remove them too.....

  14. YES!!!!
    Thank you, Amanda, nothing in nature lasts for eternity, otherwise we'd never have evolution, we'd be Neanderthals (though they've found them to be quite the clever clogs now) and still rubbing 2 dodos together to warm up under the great elk hide in the yurt ;)

  15. Hi Jayne, I found you on the Opshop Blog and came over for a visit. A very enlightening visit, I might add! This is an excellent debate; I wish it could be published in the mainstream media for everyone to read.
    Very interesting blog - I'll be back.

  16. Welcome, Gina E and thank s :)