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.