tip off

Parks Victoria uses the fire crisis to light up the Prom again

The chorus to burn the trees down before they turn into an unstoppable inferno has reached a crescendo this morning — how do the commentators propose to stop the Victorian bushfires happening again? Burn it all. Here’s Greg Sheridan today for starters:

Could more aggressive backburning have saved human lives? If it could save lives then it must be pursued much, much more vigorously.”

Then there’s Miranda Devine’s take  — blame:

…the power of green ideology over government to oppose attempts to reduce fuel hazards before a megafire erupts, and which prevents landholders from clearing vegetation to protect themselves.

Parks Victoria seem to agree. They want to use the Victorian fire crisis as an excuse to set fire to Wilson’s Promontory National Park again with massive back burns — and they have form.

It was the Thursday before Good Friday 2005 when someone — in DSE or Parks Victoria, who knows — ordered that a fire be lit in the swamp beside the Tidal River camping ground in Wilson’s Promontory National Park. Locals say that the fire was not out by the time the crew attending it were stood down.

Thousands of visitors arrived for Easter as usual and over that time a helicopter was brought in to ‘calm the fire’ next to the camping ground. The school holidays were straight after Easter and the north westerly gales that had been predicted for days arrived, turning that trickling fires into a raging bushfire. The local CFA fire brigades struggled to the fire in Tidal River but all hell had broken lose. The local crews were stood down to asset protection as the fire raced over Mount Oberon. The next morning police shut the Park and over 100 well-prepared state employees arrived to “manage” this fire for two months — not put it out. No-one was killed and the Epslin Inquiry papered over the cracks. The south end of Wilson’s Promontory was allowed to burn for two month with fire breaks cut from east to west. That permanent scar can now be seen from the sea.

A lightening strike last weekend started a fire on the Cap, as locals know it — that granite hill on the south end of Sealers Cove on the remote east coast of the prom. This was a natural fire and it was allowed to burn along the coast on the eastern side of the Vereker Ranges. It missed Paradise Vallley — one of the only ancient blue gum remnants left of the original Wilson’s Promontory landscape.

Tidal River was evacuated and the park shut  — even though the fire was almost as far from Tidal River as is possible while still being on the Prom and travelling away from the tourist development.

Last night meetings were announced for the Yanakie community at the general store about 10km from the entrance to the Park on the neck of the Prom. Yanakie has not been threatened by a fires from the Prom in 150 years but locals last night were told that the Cap fire — a spluttering blaze going out after rain Sunday  — was a threat to Yanakie. Understandably some locals were panicked — especially those who had not experienced fire — but they were not as panicked as they were when the Government men at the meeting presented plans for a massive back burn to be lit in three stages.

The first will be lit from the bottom of the hook of the Prom on near the coast at Miller’s landing with easterly winds expected, with the help of further ‘staged’ lightings’ by Parks Victoria to burn across to the coast near Cotters Lake, then down the coast to Whiskey Bay on one side and along the western face of the Vereker Range on the other. The planned control burn will produce a fire bigger than the 2005 fires!

The locals were split. Most were shell shocked at the size of the proposed burns — many times the size of the fire now going out in the rain in the northeast of the park. Others wanted to know why this fuel-reduction burning was not done earlier. One woman wanted to know if she should refer her insurance company to Parks Victoria as it was clear that it was the proposed backburn that was the only threat to Yanakie. Several people said they would sue Parks Victoria if anything happened to their homes.

Some people put their heads in their hands and muttered “here we go again” and just walked out demoralised. They left the meeting knowing full well that the uniformed bureaucrats had their plans and would not listen.

Bulldozers have already been sent to Tidal river to make fire breaks which have also been cut around the accommodation at the entrance to the park — but the park is closed and locals cannot confirm the damage.

This National Park is surrounded by sea — fire on it cannot even spot and has never burned out of the park. Yanakie is growing green crops and it’s freezing — the weather is cold and wet with the locals reporting steady rain this morning on both the fire east coast Cap and on Yanakie.

Why is it that Parks Victoria and DSE get away with taking every opportunity to light fires in National Parks and stir local sentiment for more and more fires? Do they profit from with bigger crews, more overtime, greater public prominence? Who are they accountable to? Who is driving this ideological campaign to burn, burn burn? There’s grist for Brumby’s Royal Commission.

7
  • 1
    Julie
    Posted Thursday, 12 February 2009 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    An arsonist with the badge of offialdom is ok. If you love to light fires then you would argue for the necessity of lighting them often with little regard for the result. Those who argue against lighting fires will be treated with contempt as they will prevent the activity that is loved most - burning things.

  • 2
    RJG
    Posted Saturday, 14 February 2009 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I saw the pictures of Marysville in the papers and was incredulous to see trees with green on them amongst the burnt-out houses. It was as if someone had gone in and set fire to each house individually as the houses were raised, but may trees were still standing. I then looked at Marysville street scapes using Google Maps to see how Marysville was before the fires. Gardens were much more that trees, there was wall to wall vegetation. I then took a virtual trip out of town a few kilometers and looked at the bush. No fuel reduction burns there and now no Marysville.

    A beautiful town destroyed by a weak democratic system that panders to vested interests and the market place. I am ashamed.

  • 3
    Clive Davies
    Posted Thursday, 12 February 2009 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Right on the money Lionel. As a Friend of the Prom I despair at the antics of officialdom there. I can hear it coming “We had to burn it to save it”.

  • 4
    Tom McLoughlin
    Posted Thursday, 12 February 2009 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    I’ll tell you why Elmore and it won’t be comfortable.

    Both the Liberal and Labor major parties would not have had the skills or capacity to prevent those 300 deaths this last week.

    That’s the brutal truth of it. They have cancelled question time because they don’t have any answers for the nation. No, I don’t buy the excuse about showing respect for the dead. Christian Kerr and Bob Brown and the Crikey editorial on a unity ticket. And they are so right.

    The big press smart arses today can hoot and howl as much as they like about the greens being all powerful, a bit like the Jews apparently. But the fact is every level of govt forever has been controlled by ALP and Liberal- National Coalition. They have the constitutional responsibility for the ‘peace welfare and good government’ of the people, namely to keep them alive.

    The major parties failed those 300 people. I’ve been reading about mega fire for 5 years now ever since the ACT disaster. It was clear this was worse than 1994 in NSW. In the ACT it was creating it’s own weather pattern and blowing up buildings.

    You can say it’s excessive fuel load, but that has to be unpacked. Lower rainfall means fuel doesn’t rot away in a good leaf litter/top soil dynamic. Water is the critical ingredient to all processes of life. Less rainfall more fuel …. for a megafire.

    And CSIRO in July 2008 have reported trending decrease in rainfall - evidence to a case I did in the NSW Land & Environment Court against Coca Cola accepted by Commissioner Tim Moore, a former NSW Environment Minister no less.

    That’s a bit of climate change to bushfire theory synthesis that needs to go to a Royal Commssion and all this selective baiting of the G/greens is just pathetic. They are right on climate change no risk. And its the government that decides firebreaks, hazard reduction efficacy, buffer zones. The rest is just malign rubbish.

  • 5
    Brian Walters
    Posted Thursday, 12 February 2009 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    In December 2005 I walked from Tidal River to the Lighthouse at the Prom, and then up the east coast. It was pretty much all burnt, long stretches with only a few thistles and dandelions alive - nearly 9 months after the “fuel reduction” fire got out of control.
    If a private person wanted to light a fire in a bare paddock on the Thursday before Easter in 2005, with hot weather predicted for the following week, they’d have had to apply for a battery of permits, and then they would not have got permission. It was too obviously dangerous. Still, our walk was punctuated by nicely designed signs telling us that fire was a natural part of the ecology - which it is, to a point. But this one was just bad management.
    On Wilson’s Prom’s highest peak - Mt Latrobe - you can still see the massive stumps of huge mountain ash trees killed in the fires in the mid 20th century. Because there were two fires just a few years apart, killing all the seedlings, there has been no regeneration, and the whole of this area is devoid of trees, with mostly just rocks, not even soil, covering the ground.
    So hearing of this further fire so soon after the 2005 fires is particularly concerning.
    Everyone agrees that some fuel reduction burning is appropriate. But not in summer. And the frequency depends on the type of forest and the weather conditions.
    And this new “back burning” proposal sounds like a cure that’s worse than the disease, a very large man made fire more likely to damage the park as well as surrounding property than the fire it’s meant to fix.

  • 6
    RJG
    Posted Thursday, 12 February 2009 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    We get the point Lionel. You don’t like burning off as a solution to bushfires.

    Problem is you don’t seem to have any real concrete solutions to preventing bush fires from burning down peoples homes and killing them apart form locking up the bush so that everyone has to live in the city.

    You said that the Royal Commission is a great idea to get to the truth and then you decide on what the solution is not.

    In my view with global warming producing the worst drought indexes on record, whether the fires are started by people or lightening, the trees will never fully recover between fires and eventually they will be replaced by grassland and scrub. It’s not just low rainfall, it is low rainfall and consistantly higher temperatures leading to soil and vegetation dryout that are some of the main causes of the bushfire problem. Radicle solutions are needed. Locking up the bush, doing nothing and pretending it will all look after itself is not one of them.

    Labour and their conservative friends don’t have the answers, and are so compromised with vested interests they never will. But until the Greens start to treat the issues less like religious zealots and engage with the 80% of the population who don’t comprehend the dire reality of the situation we are in they aren’t the answer either.

    My perception of the Greens and remember perception is everything in politics is that they are right on many things, wrong on just as many more, but don’t have the ability to compromise on anything. My perception may be wrong, I wish they could convince me that I am.

  • 7
    scott
    Posted Friday, 13 February 2009 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    We may need to accept that our entire society is incompetent with fire. Despite the vast efforts over the last week to discover a thread of sense through the disaster, be it running along the green-industry axis or along the right-left axis, or even (god-help-us) along the bureaucracy-common sense axis, I have not found any of these efforts convincing. Residential populations are extremely mobile — this may be why we seem to have so little community memory about fire. Bureaucracies are continually re-organising (trust me I work in them) — this may be why we seem to have so little government memory about fire. Lionel’s final paragraph does the debate a disservice by suggesting a conspiracy theory on the most cynical of motives and without a shred of evidence. Past incompetence is not proof of future malice.

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