A Bushfire A.B.C

I wasn’t going to write a bushfire post this year [2019] because I thought there was no need, not with the devastating fires in NSW and QLD to focus everyone’s thoughts. But I’ve just been on Twitter and seen some of the misconceptions about bushfires.

So…here are some basics:

Fire needs just two things to burn: fuel and oxygen. However the size of that fire depends on many things:

  • Dry fuel – makes a fire burn harder and faster. Fuel is made of up dry grass, leaves, small twigs and fallen branches that build up on the ground over time.
  • Low humidity – i.e. moisture in the air and soil – makes a fire burn harder and faster.
  • Strong winds – provide the oxygen to make a fire burn harder and faster. They also transport embers ahead of the main fire.
  • Embers – land on dry fuel and start spot fires.
  • Spot fires act like pre-ignition for the main fire.

So far, these conditions could apply to any fire, in any country of the world. In Australia though, things are a little different. As well as all of the above, we also have to contend with native vegetation that evolved with fire. Some native plants developed ways to keep the species going after a fire. In fact, the seeds of many of our natives need fire to germinate.

In a nutshell, most Australian natives evolved to burn. This includes gum trees [eucalypts].

  • Gum leaves contain eucalyptus oils.
  • When these oils heat up enough, they turn into a volatile gas.
  • Add a spark and this gas goes ‘boom’. It’s an accelerant – like throwing petrol onto a camp fire.
  • Lightning strikes from ‘dry storms’ provide the spark that starts hundreds of fires every year.

So let’s look at a couple of what-ifs. Let’s say a lightning strike starts a fire. If the humidity is high and the fuel is wet – e.g. winter – the fire doesn’t go very far.

But this is what happens in summer:

  • Lightning [or human stupidity via an angle grinder creating a spark, an over-heated car starting to burn, a camp-fire left unattended, blah blah blah] starts a fire in grassland.
  • The grass fire spreads into scrub land.
  • The scrub land fire spreads into native forest.
  • The scrub at the base of the gum trees burns hotter and hotter.
  • The eucalyptus oil in the gum leaves heats up.
  • The volatile oil in the gum leaves becomes a gas and suddenly the whole tree is on fire.
  • As more and more trees burn, and the wind pushes the embers and superheated air ahead of it, the conditions for a ‘crown fire’ emerge.

A crown fire is when the fire jumps from tree top to tree top. This is a fire that nothing can stop – no amount of water bombers, no amount of fire fighters, no amount of chemical retardants. In fact, water bombers can’t even get near this kind of fire because it creates its own weather, crazy weather that makes flying virtually impossible.

In 2009, south eastern Australia was in the grip of the Millenium drought and an El Nino weather event. For those who don’t know, during an El Nino period, south eastern Australia goes through an extended ‘dry’ spell with much less rain than normal.

In February 2009, an extended heatwave of 40+ degree temperatures, extremely low humidity, high fuel loads and a ferocious north wind [bringing even more heat from the Centre] combined to create Black Saturday, the worst bushfire event in modern Australian history. 173 people died.

Now, ten short years later, NSW is likely to have another perfect storm of fire conditions…tomorrow…at the very beginning of summer…with the worst of the fire season still to come.

I’ll be honest, I’m scared. Conditions here in Victoria are cool and wet, for now, but the worst is yet to come. How will Warrandyte fare once the grass browns off and the damp fuel load turns into dry kindling? And even if we squeak through this fire season, what about next year and the one after that?

Some years ago I attend a Climate Change rally in Melbourne, and one of the speakers [from the CFA*] said something I’ll never forget. He said words to the effect that there are no climate change deniers at the end of a fire hose.

Climate Change is not causing bushfires, it’s making them bigger and more frequent. Exactly as the climate scientists predict.

Climate Change is also extending the length of the fire season. When I was a kid, January and February were the bad months. In years to come, fire season may extend from the beginning of Spring [September] through to the end of Autumn [May].

Three people have died in NSW already. How many more have to die before we stop ‘praying’ and start doing something useful?

I hope with all my heart that the legacy of Black Saturday means that Victorians remember how helpless we all felt, and act accordingly. We’ve been there. We know. The only thing we can control, even a little, is the fuel load. Reducing the fuel load won’t stop a fire from starting, and it won’t stop a fire from spreading, but it may reduce the severity of that fire by stopping it from becoming a crown fire. Harm reduction. The life it saves could be your own.

And Warrandyte? If you haven’t cleared your block yet, what the effing hell are you waiting for? NSW and QLD may be the canaries in the coal mine this year, but make no mistake, we’re in that bloody coal mine too.

To EllaD and the GO in Taylors Arms – stay safe.

Meeks

*CFA – Country Fire Authority, the volunteer fire fighting organisation in Victoria.

 

 

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

36 responses to “A Bushfire A.B.C

  • Smoke gets in your eyes – daleleelife101.blog

    […] It pays to know your adversary… The other part of it is being prepared and using the tools available, to cope. I have explained similar to quite a few people over the last few days who have been concerned but not familiar enough to really understand our particular situation, and worry more than necessary. You’ve got to remember these fires have been on our radar for longer than the media coverage, and are part of rural living. We set ourselves up with the tools to deal with whatever comes… once you are familiar with the information resources, apps, local geography and topography and practically know you have enough food to last for weeks or more without going town, have a generator and enough water, and a 4WD and a G.O. who has done this all b4… But even I have my moments. When I saw the vast areas on the possible predicted RFS map of the fire for yesterday at 3.40 am when I was wandering around checking the hills for flame activity, I started shaking so much I couldn’t hold my phone. It’s what you don’t know and can’t control that makes it stressful but you balance that with what you do. Ignoring social media commentary from unofficial sources us also useful. It can be misleading even if well-intentioned. Hopefully by the weekend life will be back to normal and we’ll have to unpack the ute… (Nov. 13) https://acflory.wordpress.com/2019/11/11/a-bushfire-a-b-c/ […]

    Like

  • roughwighting

    Well done. And as Bette says, above, all could be said the same for the CA wildfires, in which my friends/family are affected. In recent years, there’s been an attempt to destroy a lot of eucalyptus trees with some result. But as you say, the fires are stronger and last longer than in earlier years…

    Like

    • acflory

      Ugh, I had no idea you were so closely tied to those fires. I hope everyone’s okay with no property damage.
      I love gum trees, but here in Australia we view them through rose-tinted spectacles. We see their beauty but we refuse to acknowledge that they have to be maintained. That was something our native peoples did for millenia – they understood the land and their ‘cold burns’ prevented these massive conflagrations. We have to learn from them, but so far, no one’s listening.

      Liked by 1 person

  • daleleelife101.blog

    It pays to know your adversary… The othe part if it is being prepared and using the tools available, to cope. I have explained similar to quite a few people over the last few days who have been concerned but not familiar enough to really understand our particular situation, and worry more than necessary. You’ve got to remember these fires have been on our radar for longer than the media coverage, and are part of rural living. We set ourselves up with the tools to deal with whatever comes… once you are familiar with the information resources, apps, local geography and topography and practically know you have enough food to last for weeks or more without going town, have a generator and enough water, and a 4WD and a G.O. who has done this all b4… But even I have my moments. When I saw the vast areas on the possible predicted RFS map of the fire for yesterday at 3.40 am when I was wandering around checking the hills for flame activity, I started shaking so much I couldn’t hold my phone. It’s what you don’t know and can’t control that makes it stressful but you balance that with what you do. Ignoring social media commentary from unofficial sources us also useful. It can be misleading even if well-intentioned. Hopefully by the weekend life will be back to normal and we’ll have to unpack the ute…

    Like

    • acflory

      -hugs- I’ve never seen a bushfire up close and personal. The closest was the one south of the river that burnt out a couple of houses. Me and my neighbours watched the water bombers at work. Oddly enough, that experience did calm me down a bit. I felt in control and guess you and the GO are in control too. That does make a difference. I’m still going to worry about you though, at least until the weekend. 🙂
      Please post updates so we know you’re still okay.

      Liked by 1 person

  • flawedman

    I loved the one purchase at a time — going down determinedly .

    Like

  • jilldennison

    Fire is … so devastating. It does not discriminate between rich & poor, black & white … it simply devours everything in its path. I have been watching the wildfires in California and it brings tears every time. My heart goes out to those in South Wales as well. Keep safe, my friend.

    Like

    • acflory

      Thanks, Jill. I’ve often thought that what happens in California is often a good indication of what will happen to us. No idea what this summer is going to be like. Melbourne is still green, and we’ve had decent rain, but further north things are grim. I fear they’re going to get a lot worse before our fire season is over.

      Like

  • anne54

    I had to reblog this, Meeks. ~ hugs~

    Like

  • anne54

    Reblogged this on Anne Lawson Art and commented:
    On this day, when New South Wales and Queensland are facing catastrophic fire conditions, these are very wise words from my very wise friend (and talented author) about fire in Australia are a must read.

    I am also thinking of EllaD and the GO. Stay safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  • flawedman

    I’m very glad you did decide to write this we all need to stir up awareness.
    The Limits to Growth book was published on 1972 and sold millions of copies in lots of languages. The prediction in the book was that 2008 would see peak industrial output and the population would peak in 2030. After that a rapid decline.
    In the animal kingdom population increases until circumstances stop it , perhaps lack of prey or competition , well it looks like we rank with the animals now and circumstances will enforce the old saying ‘ every dog has his day.’
    The very life blood of our civilisation is expansion and I can’t see it being reduced in a voluntary manner.

    Like

    • acflory

      In nature, a stable ecology is one in which supply and demand are in balance. That goes for any system except cancers. Perhaps climate change is the check our species needs to find a more balanced way of living. If not….we’re committing suicide, one purchase at a time.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Mick Canning

    Watching from over here it’s scary. And yes, i keep thinking of Black Saturday. i hate the phrase ‘thoughts and prayers’ because it reminds me of the apologetic shit spewed out by the White House whenever there’s another mass shooting, but I can only hope that everyone is safe.

    And I don’t suppose the race to the bottom monetising everything in sight, as you and Cagedunn discuss above, helps at all.

    Like

  • DawnGillDesigns

    Thanks for this. I shared on Twit before reading, coz I knew it would be concise and clear

    Like

  • ChrisJamesAuthor

    Stay safe, sending you lots of wishes for tons of rain *hugs*

    Like

  • Audrey Driscoll

    I thought of you when I heard about the NSW fires on the news. I hope you dodge the bullet!

    Like

  • cagedunn

    There will be no lessons learned. We know this from the reactions of the politicians. The 2IC instead blasts the people who’ve been trying to bring the issue to the forefront over the last few years, and calls them out for speaking out when the polly was supposed to be in the limelight for ‘helping’ the victims. Too little, too late, but pollies don’t seem to see how ridiculous they look for blaming the protesters.

    Apparently, we must all be ‘inner-city raving lunatics’ and he calls it a ‘debate’ instead of an impending (or actual) disaster).
    https://au.news.yahoo.com/deputy-prime-minister-slams-climate-change-links-bushfires-233306335.html

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      Yeah, I saw that on Twitter. I know this is now standard political fare but…no one’s buying it any more. Deflecting blame may have worked 20 – 30 years ago when the main stream media was the only source of news. Doesn’t work any more except for those holdouts that really, really don’t want to see the writing on the wall. I guess some people are just too afraid of the future to ever admit there’s a problem.

      But others? And I don’t mean politicians here. I expect them to be blinded by ambition and degrees of self-obsessed. No, I’m talking apparently sane, articulate people who think climate change is nothing but a Greenie plot.
      I’ve become so cynical, I sometimes wonder whether they’re being paid to spread confusion and doubt.
      Grrr…sorry. I shouldn’t have gone on Twitter today, but these fires push all my buttons. 😦

      Liked by 3 people

      • cagedunn

        And mine, but they come on the tail of the water issue. I made a bet with someone that there wouldn’t be water restrictions, that the desal plant wouldn’t come online until someone figured out how to make money from it … and then sell it on. The first part has happened. The desal is coming online to ‘save the farmers’ even though it doesn’t say how the water gets to them; it’s going to save the river, even though the only place that’s going to get the desal water is the dams for Adelaide’s water supply – what about the rest of Australia? What about the rural towns?
        Still no water restrictions, only the start of the monetising of resources …
        As disappointing as it is, I don’t think I’m wrong, and the fires and climate change won’t stop the mad progression toward monetising everything that can be in order to ‘save the bottom line’. Maybe they don’t realise that people now are much, much better informed, that kids can and will boot their backsides to the floor … if the world survives the next few years of our inadequate and short-sighted, money-grubbing politicians.
        I hate to get involved in politics, but they need to be reminded about how they got to where they are – and WHY. Their job is to represent the needs of the people, not the back pocket.

        Liked by 3 people

  • Bette A. Stevens

    Thoughts and prayers for all… Sharing. Things are just as bad here in USA.

    Like

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