Victorian Fires

The Victorian fires are a reminder of how deadly nature can be. They are also a reminder of how rapidly and spontaneously people can extend compassion to those in real need. No coercion required.

Whether it is those that volunteer to fight the fires, those that make sandwiches to feed them, somebody donating a generator or simply giving money to the red cross, people seem to implicitly know how they can best help. And they do.

I grew up on a farm surrounded by bushland and as a teenager fighting fires seemed to be an almost regular event as we lent a hand to help neighbours contain fire. On one occasion in the midst of bushland I turned to retreat from a fire  that was too hot to fight only to find myself surrounded by fire. Luckily the fire behind me was not yet hot enough to prevent retreat and I ended the day with nothing more than a few minor burns. Even knowing first hand that fire can move quickly and how easily miscalculations can put your life in peril I am still, like most people, stunned by the carnage in Victoria.

These fires were apparantly so fierce that from hundreds of metres away the heat could be over 1000 degrees Celcius. The heat could kill you long before the smoke or flames even made a mark. Within minutes of the first sign of a fire the front could be apon you. In short some people simply never stood a chance.

There are already those that are blaming climate change for these fires. Others think restrictions on clearing of vegetation had a role. I don’t pretend to know the reasons why upward of possibly 300 people have lost their lives.  No doubt as the fires come under control and people begin to rebuild their lives lots of questions need to be asked.

13 thoughts on “Victorian Fires

  1. If it is arson then climate change can’t really be blamed.

    Restrictions on land clearing are bad rules but I’d rather blame the arsonist. Well intentioned mistakes pale in comparison to malice or reckless indifference.

  2. Some caller to a radio station apparently noticed that the imported European trees didn’t seem to catch fire as readily. Perhaps, if you must have trees near your house, they should be imports?

  3. Backburning has been reduced?
    Today’s and yesterday’s Australian has experts blaming green groups for lobbying government to stop back burning.
    I think it’s fairly obvious that if backburning has been reduced, then any bush fire would be more severe. And this should be a reminder to people that if you want to restrict people’s impact on the environment this will result in negative effects to human life. There’s no way around this.

    The Climate change argument is fairly irrelevant IMO, the risk of bush fires has always been present in Australia. Some Australian flora needs fire to germinate seeds and fire is a part of the ecosystem.

    One positive for the building industry: I reckon sales of concrete bunkers will skyrocket now.

  4. These large catastrophic bushfires are a direct result of the socialisation of forestry* in the 1920’s

    Before the 1920’s forests were ‘commons’ and we all know where that leads. Contemporary industry were very worried about the dramatic loss of quality timber and so they bought some politicians who brought out some English foresters to socialise the forests to be managed by State Forestry Commissions. They also stopped the continuous burning which I believe was adopted by the new settlers from the local aboriginals.

    Meanwhile the forest fuels built up waiting till a spell of hot weather and it erupted in fires like that in 1939. After the subsequent Stretton Royal commission locals were allowed to continue prescribed burning and all was well with a few exceptions, until contemporary socialists stopped it again in the 1970’s, with predictable tragic results. In spite of the incontrovertable evidence they are still in denial, there are already articles in the press opposing ‘wholesale incineration’, some bizzare obfuscation of what prescribed mosaic burning actually is in practice.

    The answer is of course to re-privatise these forests, as the Jeff Kennett did with their pine forests, and let the owners do what they like. If they don’t want to burn their bit of bush, they don’t have to, but they will be liable if they burn down their neighbours house, if they can afford the insurance premiums.

    *I use the English definition meanining the whole ecosystem not just trees. The French call it Jardinaire which loosely translates to ‘gardening’

  5. Forestry mismanagement probably gets called “restrictions on land clearing” by accident. That puts a whole new spin on things. I must say socialised pine plantations in Canberra were paticularly problematic before.

    Another issue is that there is a bias towards reforestation, and not revegetation. Maybe not in alpine areas, but in some grasslands, scrubs and forestation is technically noxious weeds as it dries the area out and drives away native wildlife and is less productive than semi open grass plains.

    Another problem is after many years, power line pole arms become loaded with dust and couplings for transformers dry out. Clearly this is a fire danger but it is difficult to manage.

    Of course, this is all well intentioned mistakes. I won’t say that anyone is malicious save for any arsonists who should be punished severely.

  6. Good point about compassion.Most people feel helpless and just want to do something.I quite like humans when we act like this.

  7. Here’s a victim blaming the people and the policies directly responsible for this atrocity. I call it atrocity because that is what it is and the green pressure groups are directly responsible. I hope he sues the shit out of them.

    “Angry survivors blame council ‘green’ policy

    ANGRY residents last night accused local authorities of contributing to the bushfire toll by failing to let residents chop down trees and clear up bushland that posed a fire risk.

    During question time at a packed community meeting in Arthurs Creek on Melbourne’s northern fringe, Warwick Spooner — whose mother Marilyn and brother Damien perished along with their home in the Strathewen blaze — criticised the Nillumbik council for the limitations it placed on residents wanting the council’s help or permission to clean up around their properties in preparation for the bushfire season. “We’ve lost two people in my family because you dickheads won’t cut trees down,” he said.

    “We wanted trees cut down on the side of the road … and you can’t even cut the grass for God’s sake.”

    http://www.theage.com.au/national/angry-survivors-blame-council-green-policy-20090211-83p0.html

  8. I wonder if you’re allowed to sue councils? You should be able to do it, and it would force the rest to pursue sensible policies. Let’s hope he sues, and starts a trend!

  9. Tim R’s points are very important to note.

    White man came to this land 200 years ago, but it’s a hostile and foreign land in some ways. We still keep on trying to force European methods of farming and vegetation control onto a land that functions in a different way.

    Now we could do what Nicholas suggests and replace all native flora with imported plants. Or we could try and work with the land. That means we need to use controlled burning. Australia is made to burn- many species of plants in Australia need fire to live. So we can wait for bushfires to happen themselves or we can engage in controlled back-burning.

    Some of the fires were lit by arsonists and they need to be dealt with (interesting discussion to be had about the nature of punishment in cases like arson where people die as the result of a crime). But what can government do (or stop doing) in order to prevent the massive loss of life that occurred if anything? Or is tragedy and disaster just a part of life?

  10. “We’ve lost two people in my family because you dickheads won’t let people cut trees down”. I must admit that the sentiment is this line really strikes a cord with me. The guy had been fined by council $50,000 for clearing the vegetation around his house. He fought it in court, lost and then ended up out of pocket $100,000. The upside was of course that his house survived the fires.

    http://www.smh.com.au/national/fined-for-illegal-clearing-family-now-feel-vindicated-20090212-85bd.html?page=-1

    On QandA this evening one audience member asked why his local volunteer fire brigade had to wait 2 years after submitting an application for burning off before their permit application was processed. And by the time the permit was granted it was the wrong time to burn off. Perhaps there is some place for red tape (or green tape) but we seem to be tying people in needless knots with the entire government run permission industry. It is not as if the box tickers add reams of value.

    At an absolute minimum the clearing of vegetation around your own home ought to be a sovereign right of every home owner. Ideally that right should extend to your entire property. Owner occupiers are the best land custodians you can get.

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