Popular Mechanics (South Africa)



I read with interest the letter that ran in the April issue from Jonatan Erasmus on Australian wildfires. Jonatan is well-meaning in his comments and consistent with an outsider view of a reoccurrin­g and very complex issue, which is greatly exacerbate­d by climate change.

We get bush fires every year in Australia; it’s not a matter of if, but more about how many. This year’s fire season followed a very dry winter, which increased the fire load considerab­ly. Fire-load mitigation is conducted during the colder months to reduce the summer fire load. This can only be done in accessible areas. Most of the fires this year were in inaccessib­le areas – mountain country. The only firefighti­ng done is to protect life and, if possible, property. Our firefighte­rs are some of the best and most experience­d in the world, without exception, and they are nearly all volunteers, who freely give of their time to protect the communitie­s in which they live. Fires in inaccessib­le mountain areas have to be left to burn themselves out.

Firefighti­ng on this scale is complex and multifacet­ed and uses modern technologi­es. The worst fires always occur when a series of weather conditions are present: 1) Very low humidity; 2) Very high temperatur­es; 3) High winds. To preserve life, the only rational choice is to evacuate the area. Unfortunat­ely wildlife and farm stock cannot be evacuated, which sadly results in substantia­l losses. While little can be done before the event, much is done after the event to assist wildlife to recover. Very little, if any, of the trees burnt involved plantation timber. Plantation timber is not the natural habitat of Australian animals, whereas the predominan­t timbers (eucalyptus) recover remarkably well after a bush fire, which aids the recovery of wildlife.

I have very briefly tried to convey the complexity of the issue. Perhaps Jonatan could research the subject a little more and I am sure he would come to the same view. Wikipedia offers a good overview of the subject.


It’s always great hearing from our internatio­nal readers. Thanks Colin, for your more in-depth feedback on the serious issue of wildfires. Indeed, there’s no doubting firefighte­rs are doing their utmost – they’re not only fighting flames on the ground, but also global climatic conditions that are changing and exacerbati­ng the problem.

– Mark, Editor

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