Wednesday, June 26, 2024

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HomeVolume 28Not prepared for savage bushfire threat

Not prepared for savage bushfire threat

By ERWIN CHLANDA

A savage bushfire season is imminent after huge La Niña rains, but “arrangements for the mitigation, management and suppression of bushfires” are inadequate.

“There is a loss of fire management knowledge, networks and depth of experience which underpin the success of fire programs,” says the NT Government’s Alice Springs Regional Bushfire Management Plan 2022/23.

It was issued in October last year and is valid until November this year.

“Tools to support fire managers including succession planning and ongoing training in fire management and new and emerging technologies need to be more of a priority for the Alice Springs region.”

A bushfire in February 2019 took 17 days to be fully contained and raged through 1200 square kilometres of the West MacDonnell national park, including several of its prime beauty spots, and much of the Larapinta Trail.

A fire expert said water bombers could have extinguished that blaze in a fraction of the time.

When asked if water bombers would be on stand-by in the local fire season, a spokesman for the Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security said: “There are no contracted fixed wing water bombers in Central Australia and Bushfires has no plans to have large air tankers on standby when the fire season starts due to logistical and environmental considerations.”

The report says there is a “reduction in regional fire management capacity as a result of turnover of experienced fire managers and decreased local knowledge and prioritisation of fire management needs in the region due to longer time periods between significant fire events”.

How does Bushfires NT manage these problems? It reduced the official risk rating from High and Extreme to Medium.

Communication with “landholders, government agencies and other stakeholders” is a further problem, according to the report.

Their roles “at a fire event is not always clear, especially when the fire is across multiple tenures”.

When in doubt, check the Act: “Awareness by fire managers and landowners of their statutory responsibilities and duties under the Bushfire Management Act 2016 will assist with clarity,” says the report.

There is “limited experience and skills of fire ground personnel”.

The Regional Committee wants refresher training “due to the larger span of time between major fire events in the region.

“Training in … incident management and its processes would be important for fire managers. External training units [who] prevent injury and respond to wildfire are being rolled out by Bushfires NT to all volunteer brigade members and relevant stakeholders.”

Landowners, pastoralists, and stakeholders should “continue strengthening increased capability across the region by undergoing continued training”.

The Alice Springs Regional Bushfire Management Committee is requesting more resources from Bushfires NT.

IMAGE on top from the report.

4 COMMENTS

  1. To my mind it’s telling that no-one has seen fit to comment on this article.
    The two major topics of discussion are alcohol, crime and juvenile delinquency on one hand and flood mitigation on the other.
    Fair enough, but I consider these topics are distractions from a far greater danger looming for our region, namely the wildfire hazard posed by the buildup of drying grass fuel which I think has reached a level that poses an existential threat to the Centre.
    There are two reasons for this; first, the extent of coverage of buffel grass over the landscape which continues to spread remorselessly like a smothering blanket in every direction from town.
    With every passing year – and especially with each wet period – buffel grass is increasing at the expense of virtually all other vegetation, consequently the fuel load for uncontrollable wildfires is literally growing at an exponential rate.
    The second factor to take into account is the increasing prevalence of severe weather events, courtesy of climate change.
    The combination of these two broad factors poses a lethal wildfire threat that poses an extremely dangerous situation for virtually all of the Centre, especially focused on Alice Springs.
    It’s 20 years ago since the wildfire that crashed into Canberra suburbs, and 40 years since the disastrous Ash Wednesday bushfires that afflicted Victoria and South Australia.
    I cannot see why Alice Springs would not be equally at risk of such a wildfire disaster, let alone all the smaller communities in the district.
    The bushfire referred to in the article that burnt out much of the West MacDonnell national park in early 2019 was noteworthy as it proved uncontrollable during conditions of extreme drought – I don’t recall a similar situation occurring here previously.
    We’re now confronted with a massive accumulation of grass fuel on a landscape level after a triple La Niña period.
    It appears to me the sheer scale of the danger is not apparent to many people. Most of us are blissfully unaware of just how dangerous the landscape of Central Australia has now become.

  2. @ Alex Nelson. This is what happens when anthropogenic changes are made to the environment, e.g., the so-called tree change influx of Ash Wednesday and more recently the south coast of NSW, due, some argue convincingly, the Lock it and Leave it policy inaugurated by the Greens over a twenty-year period when government commissioned reports were ignored to pacify the Green vote.
    Ironically, a dam/lake could provide water for fire-fighting aircraft and a refuge for animals, if not humans in the event of a buffel fuelled wild fire enveloping the municipality of Alice Springs. The upshot is that buffel is more likely something to live with or perhaps manage, rather than eradicate, much like the other issues mentioned.
    Micro-management of the alcohol and delinquency issues would create positive outcomes, much like back-burning, fire-farming around populated areas at risk.
    Taming buffel grass is contested. A Buffel Summit, whereby stakeholders agree to a minimisation / management plan may fare better than resolving the other issues you mention in the petri dish of Centralia.

  3. A prescient article. A few weeks later there’s major fires devastating Tjoritje (West Macs) National Park, threatening homes in Mparntwe and burning on other parks, Crown lands and pastoral leases.
    The article and report flag the importance of people with long term knowledge and skills. I think of Grant Allen, Coral Allen, Peter Latz, Paul Williams and others. Plus the hundreds of traditional owners before them skilled in burning for food production. When those people are gone without succession planning and equally skilled replacements we are more vulnerable.
    I question one statement in the report – longer intervals between fire seasons. The rainfall data shows shortening intervals between large rain events. As buffel grass growth follows rain shorter fire intervals is questionable. And leads to problems if used to justify not retaining expertise.
    I agree with the report and article land owners and lessees all need familiarity and training in protective burning, prevention of wildfire, fighting and management. I’d add cultural burning too.
    So too should rural and urban land owners be vigilant about the increased likelihood of buffel grass fires. There will be more ahead.

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