It wasn’t so much the record dry and drought, the changed flammable nature of the forests or the high temperatures and strong winds that caused the huge fires, it was the Greenies!
The blame game has been eagerly played by many who profit from exploiting the land – high country graziers and loggers in particular. Politicians and your average rednecks (journalists included) happily joined in.
Here are some pointers that may help dampen these claims:
2002 was Australia’s hottest year on record. Unusually high temperatures, low rainfall and high evaporation combined to make it a freak fire season – the worst in at least 30 years, possibly 100.
In these extreme weather conditions, fuel reduction burning and firebreaks do little to prevent the spread of fire. In fact many areas burnt one or two years ago went up as fiercely as adjoining areas that hadn’t been burnt. Burning might slow a fire in less extreme conditions, but not a wild fire like we experienced.
CSIRO predicts the Mean Fire Danger Index will increase by 10% if carbon dioxide concentrations double (as predicted by the International Panel on Climate Change). This will mean twice as many extreme fire danger days each year for Victoria. Parks or Greenies or orange chimney pots won’t make the slightest difference
80% of fires are caused by humans – deliberately or accidentally.
Extensive burning – off has been a feature of the past 200 years but has not prevented wildfires. Horrendous fires occurred in 1939-40, 1952, 1957, 1968, 1977-78, 1983, 1988, 1994. Before ’39, burning off was a common practice, but it didn’t stop half the state going up in smoke.
Frequent fuel reduction burning should not be confused with Aboriginal firestick farming. The latter was usually very precise and used over limited areas in the landscape.
Broad – acre ‘burning-off’ is the opposite of firestick farming and changes the wetter forest ecology, encouraging drier fire adapted plants to dominate.
Old growth forests are closed and damp with high moisture levels. They are much less fire prone.
Regrowth forests comprise thick stands of young trees, wattles and other colonising plants. These contain high amounts of oil that encourages fire spread. The young tree heads are all at the same height – a perfect conduit for a fire.
The fires of Ash Wednesday and Black Friday were mostly in the dry logging regrowth forests. There were only a few Parks and no such thing as “Greenies”. The Royal Commission on Black Friday concluded that alteration to the environment from logging had led to the severity and extent of the fires.
There is no difference in fire control and suppression on private land, national parks or state forest. Land tenure is not an issue. Contrary to popular opinion, the majority of fires start outside parks and burn into them.