Bushfire danger – burning off on high wind days

Courtesy Shannon Buxton

Courtesy Shannon Buxton

Despite countless examples of bushfires triggered by controlled burns gone wrong – set by professionals, mind you – some dick donkey is burning off today. I can see the smoke rising up through the trees across the valley from my house.

It’s not hot, yet, but there’s a strong north-easterly blowing, and wind is the element that turns an ordinary bushfire into a potential inferno.

Burning off on a windy day is just asking for trouble. Gum leaves burn even when they’re fresh and green.

Unfortunately, today hasn’t been declared a day of Total Fire Ban, so there’s not much I can do about Donkey-Boy across the valley. All I can do is sit, rant, and hope he’s standing next to that fire with a garden hose at the ready.

The thing that worries me most, though, is that Donkey-Boy probably thinks he’s doing the ‘right’ thing. He probably works all week, and only has the weekend for chores, including fire prevention chores. He probably had other chores to do yesterday, when it was warm but windless. So today he’s catching up. Yay.

I don’t know exactly which house belongs to Donkey-Boy because there is a sea of trees between my house and his, but I know the general position. Up on that hillside are a number of brand new houses. I can only assume the residents are also new to Warrandyte. Clearly they know enough to clear up the fuel load on their properties, but they don’t know enough to know when it’s safe to do so.

To be fair, it did rain heavily two days ago, so the chance of a fire going out of control is minimal, but you’d be amazed at how quickly things can dry out in Warrandyte. One day the ground is soft and moist, the next you can hear gum leaves crackling underfoot. The reason is the lack of deep topsoil and the steep terrain. Rain tends to run off before it has a chance to soak deep into the clay subsoil. Ergo, things dry out, fast.

And we have a mono-culture of red box gums.

Let me tell you a story about gums. This story was told to me by my whippersnipper man*. He was working up in the foothills of the Dandenongs a couple of years ago, and he was burning off on a day similar to this one. It was windy and embers floated up in the air. Nothing caught fire at ground level though.

Once the fire was out, my whippersnipper man made sure the coals were safe, packed up and went home. An hour later he received a panicked call from his client : one of the gums was smoking. He raced back and was just in time to stop the whole canopy from going up in flames.

“What on earth happened?” I asked, half wondering if he was pulling my leg. He wasn’t.

Apparently an ember had floated up into the gum tree, landed in a fork and smouldered until it had enough oomph to burn.True story.

So the moral of this post is to do your homework, and not do burning off on windy days.

And in case you’re wondering, there’s still a bit of smoke curling up above the trees, but the wind has died down, and there are rain clouds coming in. Looks like neither Donkey-Boy nor I will have to put our fire plans into action today, for which I am truly thankful.



* For my northern hemisphere friends, whippersnipper = brushcutter.

About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

12 responses to “Bushfire danger – burning off on high wind days

  • Candy Korman

    A scary start to the season.


  • EllaDee

    I know that feeling. A few years ago we had a well meaning neighbour put a match to the paddock behind our house. Did no harm, actually did good but they didn’t communicate with us. I was unimpressed.
    As you whippersnipper man’s story shows, and recent events in the Blue Mountains are evidence, things can go wrong in the best of circumstances. We will all be on tenterhooks this summer be it for fire, floor or storm. Such is our country and Mother Nature.


    • acflory

      “I love a sunburned country…her beauty and her terror, the wide brown land for me.” Apologies to Dorothea McKellar. I learned that poem by heart in primary school 50 years ago and it still encapsulates Australia for me. And yes, tenderhooks coming up. :/


  • metan

    A few weekends ago our good neighbour burned off on a Sunday which is a no-no in this council. The previous day, when it is ok to burn, had been terribly gusty so he waited and did, to us, the intelligent thing, even if it was breaking the rules. The bad neighbours on the other side called the council and dobbed him in!! Bastards.

    The ranger came out and asked them to put the fire out but she was clearly not happy about doing it. She was good though, as he was nearly done she said she would be back ‘in a while’ to check it was out if he would just finish up quickly.

    I always feel annoyed when people burn off on really hot days or when it is windy. Like you, we live in a place with lots of trees and can see we are one small mishap from disaster. Oh well, we just have to hope for luck to be on our side…..

    PS: we got revenge on the bad neighbours the next weekend. By coincidence they had just filled their washing line when we realized it was burning off day and we had a huge pile that needed seeing to….. Mwah ha ha…. 😀


    • acflory

      ROFL – oh well done Metan!

      I must admit I’m surprised that Sunday is a no-no. After all a lot of people work during the week. By excluding Sundays the council is making things incredibly hard for those who take bushfire preparedness seriously…hmm…I wonder if that is the whole idea? Sorry all sorts of conspiracy theories are running through my mind. 😦


      • metan

        I think that Sunday burning is against the rules in your shire/city too. I guess Sunday burning means people not necessarily putting it out properly and then going off to work on Monday to leave it to flare up again unattended, so I can see why they might prefer saturday to be the selected day.

        I like Sunday being burn free, it is annoying at times but I have no dryer! At least one day on a weekend needs to be washing line friendly. 😉

        We’ll be burning off this coming weekend that’s for sure, we’ve been doing a lot of trimming and hacking lately, the pile needs to go!


        • acflory

          Aaaah! I wish I’d known that [about Sundays]. Will definitely do something the next time it happens.

          lol – I use the washing line too and sometimes my bedding comes in smelling of Eau de Fumee!

          Speaking of burning off, my whippersnipper man burned off two huge piles of branches I’d collected out front…in the rain on Monday! Apparently the middle was still bone dry and I can testify how well it burned. Food for thought. 😦


  • davidprosser

    I’m so glad you won’t be in any danger of an uncontrolled bush fire again. It’s easy to worry.
    Thank you for explaining whippersnipper, that left a lot to the imagination.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx


  • jenniferscoullar

    Good point. Luckily no burning off around here today. Love the picture BTW!


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