As Australia is reeling under its worst fire season, NT Government departments responsible for preventing bushfires in the West MacDonnell National Park, about half of which was destroyed in a 17 day blaze in January, are “conducting a review [which] will inform ongoing fire action plans”.
That review was ordered by Minister Lauren Moss before April this year.
The following came from her Department of Tourism, Sport and Culture today in response to these questions from the Alice Springs News:
• What precautions have you taken to avoid much more of the West Macs being destroyed by fire this coming summer, following the massive losses in January?
• Has a system been put in place in Central Australia for the use of large water bombers (737s, Hercules, for example)?
• If so, how does it work?
We were told today: “The Tjoritja / West MacDonnell National Park has a Joint Management Plan and an Integrated Conservation Strategy that guides fire management strategies.
“An annual fire action plan is prepared with input from Traditional Owners each year.
“The Department of Tourism, Sport and Culture, with input from Bushfires NT and DENR scientists, is conducting a review following the bushfires at the Park earlier this year.
“This will inform ongoing fire action plans.”
Note the word “will”.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources replied that we should contact the Department of Tourism, Sport and Culture regarding fire preparedness at the West Macs as they are responsible for managing it.”
[That’s the department mentioned above.]
“They, like all other landholders, have a responsibility for minimising and managing the fire risk on their land.
“There are no contracted fixed wing water bombers in Central Australia and the optimal operating range for effective water bombing operations for a single Air Tractor is approximately up to 20 kms from an airport.”
[Our question was not about Air Tractors.]
“The further an aircraft has to fly, the less effective it is, unless operating as part of a fleet of water bombing aircraft.”
[The News has published several articles, including one on September 20, about the use and requirements of large water bombers in use in Australia, and that the flying time from the airport to Standley Chasm – where the blazes started – is about five minutes.]
“Aircraft by themselves are also very ineffective in suppression,” continued DENR, “but do add great value when used in conjunction with other breaks in fuel and supported by suitable topography, trained fire fighters with necessary equipment, and within reasonable fire weather conditions, to complement back burning and fuel hazard reduction activities.
[Why is the department stating the obvious?]
“Fixed wing water bombers also have very specific logistical and environmental considerations, which limit the circumstances in which they can be used.
[The expert we consulted for our report took the view that aerial firefighting would have been eminently appropriate precisely because much of the terrain is not accessible by ground vehicles.]
“I also repeat the important point that these planes (and pilots) would need to be shared and that there are significant and destructive wildfires currently burning interstate and this situation is likely to be repeated during the southern summer.
[Precisely. And it is clear that the department has done absolutely nothing to put Central Australia into the loop that fire fighting authorities elsewhere in Australia have belonged to, since 2003.]
“Very Large Air Tankers also need sufficient access to a reticulated water supply with correct sufficient pumping ability and required fittings.
[We reported that there is water at the Alice airport with a more than adequate flow rate. What has stopped the department from putting in place the hose and fittings?]
“Additionally Very Large Air tankers deploy a mixture of water and retardant. Fire bombing in environmentally sensitive areas should avoid locating retardant loads near water courses, steep slopes or areas of impermeable soils.
[Well done. The department prefers to let hundreds of square kilometres of park burn to a cinder rather than exposing a fraction of the area to the possibility of unspecified harm.]
PHOTO: Burned tree at Ellery Bighole.