To the mothers of Yarra Warra Pre-school in #Warrandyte [1]

warrandyte mist at dawnLadies, I know you have small children, and I know you’re run off your feet. You never have a minute to yourself, and sometimes you can’t even go to the loo on your own.

Am I right? I know I am. Nevertheless, as a mother too, albeit a very old one, I ask that you have a look at the questions below:

  1. Do you live on a bush block – i.e. a block with a lot of native vegetation, including eucalyptus trees?
  2. Can you see dead fall [broken branches] in your garden?
  3. Has the wind blown eucalyptus leaves up against the house and fence?
  4. Does your partner work during the week – i.e. is your partner away from the house from Monday to Friday?
  5. Is your bushfire plan to leave?
  6. Have you ever tried to reach the bridge over the Yarra during peak hour traffic?

The more times you answered ‘yes’ to these six questions, the more this post relates to you.

Questions 1 – 3 relate to how bushfire prone your house and land may be.

Questions 4 – 6 relate to what you intend to do if a bushfire threatens. In a best case scenario, the bushfire strikes during the weekend when your partner is home. You all evacuate early and the traffic moves in an orderly fashion. The fire has been an inconvenience, but it never even got close to the house so after a couple of hours, life continues as normal.

But fires do not respect human schedules, so it is far more likely that a bushfire will threaten you on the five days of the week your partner is not at home. You still plan to leave with your children, but you get stuck in the bottleneck around the bridge, along with all the others planning to leave. What then?

Or in an even worse case scenario, what if you’re human like most people, and decide to ‘wait and see’ whether it’s worthwhile packing grumpy kids into the car along with even grumpier pets. By the time you do decide to leave, getting stuck in the bottleneck over the bridge may be a million times more dangerous than staying put.

But…you always planned on leaving so neither you nor your partner bothered reducing the fuel load around your house. Now you’re stuck. You can’t leave and you can’t stay. To my mind, this is the worst possible scenario and it happened, on Black Saturday.

I’m not trying to be a scaremonger, but I am trying to burst the ‘she’ll be right’ bubble. If you want to live in Warrandyte you must plan for the worst case scenario, not the best.

And that brings me back to questions 1 – 3. Even if you plan on leaving very early on every single high fire danger day over summer, you must make sure you have a fighting chance in case things go pear-shaped and you can’t leave.

In order to have that fighting chance, you must make time to:

  1. gather deadfall into heaps – in clearings, not under trees, and
  2. burn the piles off while the weather is cool, damp and NOT WINDY!

Yes, ladies, I’m using the word ‘you’ for one, very good reason – no matter how conscientious your partner may be, he is only going to be available on weekends. That’s 2 days out of 7. What’s the chance that the wind is not going to blow on the day he has free? This year? Less than 50/50.

I don’t know what’s happened to the weather this year but it seems to have been blowing a gale every second day. That, or it’s pouring with rain. Clear, calm days on which it’s safe to burn off have been rare, so it’s become vital that burning off happens whenever the weather allows. Sadly that may only be during the week…when your partner is at work.

What? You expect me to light fires with tiny children hanging around my feet? Are you crazy? Not possible!

Sadly, I’m not crazy, and it is necessary. It is also possible, but not without effort.

I don’t have a small child anymore, but at 63, I know exactly how tiring this job can be because I’m the Mama-Papa in our family. In your family, you may need to ask slightly older children to help Mummy pick up sticks and put them in lots of little piles. You may have to light those tiny piles while the kids are having a nap, or are at pre-school, or with Grandma. You may have to form groups with other pre-school Mums and help each other with child minding while the rest of you do the burning off.

However you do it, though, reducing the fuel load is a must because Warrandyte is a tinderbox waiting to burn. Most of the area is densely covered in Red Box and we are only allowed to clear trees in a ten metre radius around the house. To clear any further out, we have to apply to Nillumbik council for a permit and those permits are never granted.

Red Box are eucalypt trees, and like most gums, their leaves contain volatile oils that burn exceedingly well. The idea behind this evolutionary development is that the oils help the fire sweep through quickly, burning the branches and leaves but leaving the trunk intact. Once the fire is over, eucalypts can re-grow from the trunk, not just the roots. Great for the trees, not so great for us.

The following excerpt is taken from gardening advice developed for NSW but is appropriate for Victoria as well:

Plants in the Myrtaceae family, such as Eucalyptus, Melaleuca and Leptospermum, contain oil glands in the leaves and are more inclined to burn and to spread fire. Plants such as these should be well away from houses. Tall trees, at an appropriate distance from a house can make good barriers to ember attack. The key is to not plant a grove of the same species, but to have trees such as a gum tree or tea-tree in isolation with a well-cleared area below.

Here in Warrandyte, we don’t have the option of not planting ‘a grove of the same species’. For this reason, clearing the fuel load beneath the trees becomes vitally important. If we can stop a fire from getting up into the canopy, we have a fighting chance.

In the next article in this series, I’m going to assume that many women with pre-school children are as clueless about burning off [safely] as I was. I’ll explain about the best weather conditions in which to do domestic burning off, and I’ll detail how I do things.




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

13 responses to “To the mothers of Yarra Warra Pre-school in #Warrandyte [1]

  • Bun Karyudo

    Your advice sounds very sensible, although it doesn’t apply directly to me. One good thing about living in an apartment building in the middle of a city is the chances of a brush fire are minimal. 🙂


  • Ellen Buikema

    Great article! Here in the states we call them brush fires.

    Eucalyptus trees have been planted in areas of California to help with soil erosion. I never thought about the oils and what would happen if these trees caught fire. Wow!

    I remember a cousin who lived not far from sugar cane fields said that they burn the canes every year. Is this still a practice in Australia?


    • acflory

      Hi Ellen, and yes, I’ve read about the problems California is having with eucalypts. I believe they’re looking for ways to take them out, not just for fire prevention but also because they’re killing off the native vegetation. Not sure about the sugar canes. I know that’s how they used to do it, but now? No idea.


  • Candy Korman

    And I just worry about big hurricanes and snow storms. FIRE! Yikes…


  • davidprosser

    As always Warrandyte has my best wishes and fingers crossed.
    xxx Hugs Galore xxx


  • metan

    Did you enjoy the quiet zephyr of a breeze drifting through on Sunday? 😉 Oh man, what a day!

    The man of the house had booked a few days off this weekend to mess about in his shed and take his motorbike for a ride but we have spent the last two days in the garden with a chainsaw, burning off everything that hit the ground. Everything that didn’t hit the ground, but snapped off and is still leaning precariously against the next domino in line, is going to have to wait until we get a man in with a bigger chainsaw…

    We were nearly 24 hours without electricity on one day, 12 the next, (but we’re lucky, some friends are still living in the dark days later 😦 ), the drive anywhere the next day was less stick to the left and more avoid the immovable objects, and the destruction means our view from any window is now completely changed… The consequences of that kind of destruction on a hot February day would be inconceivable. 😦


    • acflory

      Damn, Metan…I had no idea your area had been hit so badly. We had about 15 minutes without power and a mess all over the garden but nothing ‘big’ like we’ve had in te past. The only nice thing I can say is that at least the house wasn’t damaged. 😦 Will you be able to save any of your garden??


      • metan

        You were lucky! I hate those big blows, so scary… One poor lady a few k’s away died when a big gum fell on her house that afternoon, and a few firies were injured by debris while trying to save her. 😦
        Again, an example of our utter inability to predict what nature might do.

        The garden at ground level near the house is pretty much unchanged, except for all the sawdust, it’s just the skyline that has changed!

        When we moved into the house there was a stand of Ti-tree type things along the fenceline, starting at the house, but over the years we’ve quietly taken away the ones closest to the house not wanting to make it too obvious (they burn like anything, so I hate them). We weren’t sorry to see three fall that afternoon, yay, but now my lovely old Hills Hoist is flattened, so grrrr… The damage done to the rest means we can take the whole lot out without guilt, or having to worry about getting in trouble, so yay again!


        • acflory

          OMG…they woman who died was near you? The Offspring and I watched that on TV and thanked our lucky stars it wasn’t us. 😦
          Sorry about the Hills Hoist but very VERY glad about the other stuff. I guess there’s a silver lining to everything and at least now you’ll be that much safer during fire season. So glad I don’t have any of that nasty stuff at my place.


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