A ‘lack’ of back-burn­ing sparks bush­fire threat

The Observer - - NEWS - OPIN­ION, JIM EL­LIOT

AT A time when, hope­fully, the cur­rent bush­fire emer­gen­cies are be­ing con­tained, some very se­ri­ous thought needs to be given as to why these have oc­curred in the first place to the high lev­els ex­pe­ri­enced. The ex­tremely dry, hot and windy weather was, with­out doubt, a ma­jor con­tribut­ing fac­tor – but, de­spite me­dia claims to the con­trary, we have ex­pe­ri­enced such “heat­waves” be­fore, and will do so again.

It can­not es­cape no­tice that a great ma­jor­ity of the se­ri­ous fires started, or were al­lowed to de­velop, in na­tional parks or other govern­ment-con­trolled ar­eas where, ob­vi­ously, lit­tle at­tempt has been made in re­cent years to ex­hibit proper for­est man­age­ment or fire haz­ard re­duc­tion.

The fires in the Deep­wa­ter and Eurim­bula na­tional parks are clas­sic ex­am­ples of the re­sult of the poor man­age­ment of these ar­eas for a con­sid­er­able num­ber of years. I grew up in that area, and many years ago I reg­u­larly rode a horse in that coun­try to muster cat­tle, back when it was pri­vately held prop­erty or was leased to lo­cal gra­ziers.

It was then more open grass­land, not thick scrub as it is now. Over the years since these ar­eas came un­der Govern­ment con­trol, these ar­eas have be­come hugely over­grown – pre­dom­i­nantly with rub­bish and weeds such as lan­tana and rats tail grass.

Why is it that the tax­pay­ers and ratepay­ers now have to bear the cost of the mas­sive oper­a­tions to con­trol the re­sul­tant fires, and pri­vate per­sons and busi­nesses have to suf­fer losses of prop­erty and stock, and fire­fight­ers and vol­un­teers have to risk their lives – all as a re­sult of the govern­ment’s fail­ure to ex­hibit proper man­age­ment of the land which is un­der its con­trol?

An­other ma­jor is­sue which has be­come ap­par­ent dur­ing the present emer­gency is the re­luc­tance or in­abil­ity of many of the fire con­trollers to al­low the use of back-burn­ing as an ef­fec­tive con­trol method.

I have spo­ken with vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers and oth­ers who were in­volved in the Deep­wa­ter, Cap­tain Creek, Mount Lar­com, Darts Creek and Grace­mere fires, and all were out­spo­ken about or­ders which pre­vented them from en­gag­ing in early back-burn­ing oper­a­tions which would have hugely re­duced the fire con­trol work­load, and the dan­gers to which they were sub­se­quently ex­posed.

The Greeks knew some 2000 years ago that the best way to fight fire was with fire – so why are our vol­un­teers and our reg­u­lar fire con­trol per­son­nel not al­lowed to use such an ef­fec­tive method?

Pri­vate gra­ziers rou­tinely grade roads and fire breaks around their prop­er­ties and back-burn off these to re­duce the fire haz­ard, so why are not con­trollers of govern­ment lands re­quired to do the same?

To give an or­der that back­burn­ing could not be ef­fected be­cause there was a to­tal ban on light­ing fires at the time is, in my opin­ion, as stupid as say­ing that you could not use the town wa­ter to put out a fire as there was a ban on wa­ter us­age for other than do­mes­tic pur­poses!

At a time when the dam­age caused by these fires is still very much in the minds of all per­son­nel in­volved, I hope that con­sid­er­able thought will be given as to why the fires were able to de­velop to the ex­tent that oc­curred, and how to pre­vent this in the fu­ture.

In many cases it could be as sim­ple a so­lu­tion as run­ning a wide clear path around the perime­ter of ev­ery one of the govern­ment-con­trolled ar­eas with doz­ers and graders, and fol­low­ing this up with drip torches to ef­fect a fire haz­ard re­duc­tion – and to do this on an an­nual (or at very least bian­nual) ba­sis – just as sen­si­ble pri­vate landown­ers do to pro­tect their prop­er­ties.

There is no way any­body look­ing at the cur­rent state of the burnt-out na­tional park ar­eas can say that there is re­spon­si­ble man­age­ment in those ar­eas.

Yes, the weather was a fac­tor, but it al­ways was a dis­as­ter wait­ing to hap­pen – and it did! ■ Com­ment was sought from the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­ment and Sci­ence and Leeanne Enoch, the Min­is­ter for En­vi­ron­ment and the Great Bar­rier Reef, Min­is­ter for Sci­ence, and Min­is­ter for the Arts. See the DES re­sponse be­low.

Photo: Mike Richards GLA280917FARM

OPIN­ION: Jim El­liot on his prop­erty at Cal­liope.

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