I had a small epiphany today, and it was this : when fire runs out of fuel, it stops.
Seems so obvious doesn’t it? That simple fact is behind the theory and practice of firebreaks and containment lines; take away the fuel in the path of a fire and it will [eventually] stop. Yet despite the obviousness of this fact, we continue to talk about bushfires as if they’re malevolent demons out to get us, while completely ignoring the part we play in our own destruction.
A man died yesterday. I am not saying he was in any way to blame for what happened to him, but his remains were found in the burnt out wreck of his car. I can only assume he was trying to out run the Gippsland bushfire.
The death of this one, unidentified man is a horrific reminder of the 173 who died in the bushfires of Black Saturday. After those fires we had a Royal Commission that recommended all sorts of sensible, practical measures to ensure nothing like that happens again. Coincidentally, we also had a number of years of above average rainfall. That has had consequences.
After eleven years of drought, the rains following Black Saturday were sorely needed, however they triggered a sort of collective amnesia we could have done without. The Bushfires Royal Commission handed down its report, the State Government changed hands, and we all pushed the fear of bushfires onto the back burner. After all, it was raining for godsake!
In the years since Black Saturday, the CFA sounded warnings about how lots of rain also meant lots of new growth, new growth that would dry off over summer and burn, but we largely ignored the warnings, and the fuel load built up.
Now here we are, back in the middle of an unusually dry, hot summer, with bushfires raging in almost every state, and the worst of the fire season still to come [in February].
I look around my own small corner of Victoria and all I see is neglect, and an almost wilful optimism that ‘we’ won’t be affected. Some home-owners have done the right thing, but far too many haven’t. I guess they’re the ones who’ll leave in a panic and get caught in the bottle-neck of the bridge.
I understand panic, and when we had that fire at Kangaroo Ground recently, I sent the Daughter off without realising that half of Warrandyte would be trying to do the same thing. She was caught in that bottleneck. That won’t happen again, not to her, but I shudder to think how many Warrandyte residents will do the same thing the next time, and pay the price.
Bushfires are incredibly complex phenomena, and no one thing is ever to blame, but there are a few simple facts that we must acknowledge :
- fires need fuel,
- people who do not clear their blocks provide fuel for fires,
- people who do not clear their blocks endanger their own lives because leaving may not be possible, or it may be more dangerous than staying,
- people who do not clear their blocks put all our lives at risk because fires do not stop at the fenceline.
- and Local Councils who budget the barest minimum for fire-mitigation works – because they refuse to acknowledge the part fuel plays in a bushfire – are culpable and should be tried in a Court of Law for wilful manslaughter.
Too harsh? Not harsh enough. We can’t change our climate. We can’t change lightning strikes, and we certainly can’t lock up every fire-bug in the country, but we can change attitudes… if we try hard enough, and if there are legal and financial consequences for failure.
I love living in Warrandyte but there are no free lunches here. All that beauty has to be paid for in vigilance and maintenance. Burying your head in the sand won’t save the rest of your body when the fires visit us again. And they will you know, because Warrandyte is a fire-prone area and we’re living on luck, not good management.