More on the East Gippsland Bushfires

My blog of last Wednesday on our bushfires was criticised by someone on facebook for being an “overdramatic article”. The blog made a number of points that could be summarised as follows – that the fires were already big, that they were in rugged country, that the total perimeter of all the fires was already well over 100k and they could creep slowly through the bush for weeks and then when conditions became adverse quickly come to life again. The critic was not specific and perhaps he or she did not read the blog. Or perhaps they objected to my directly connecting the fires to climate change.

One suspects that the objection was the linking to climate change when I said “With hindsight the 2003 fires appear to be the dawning of the ‘pyrocene’ – the new age of fire brought on by global warming.” These ‘climate change deniers’ are a very small but active minority of our population egged on by the dinosaurs in the Murdoch press. It is perhaps unfortunate that the ‘peoples paper’ is the broadsheet of choice in the bush and populist rantings of climate change denier Andrew Bolt appeal to those who like his ‘bucking the system’ pieces. But anyone on the fire line now, or who has experienced any of the major fires this century, knows that these fires are ‘unprecedented’.

As one who has experienced two of these events at close hand – 2003 and 2006/7 – I was still shocked by the rapid advance of the Marthavale fire over the last 24 hours. On Friday evening the fire was heading north towards Brookville with emergency warnings. Mark Flynn from an Ensay family tweeted “Yeah Peter, Dad seemed more worried by the Marthavale… fire than Ensay fire, if it gets north of them into the Swifts Creek area it’s going to be a really big problem, perhaps bigger than anything seen before.”

But by Saturday morning the Marthavale fire had advanced rapidly in a south-east direction, crossed the Great Alpine Road and joined with the Bruthen fire. Mark messaged again “Yeah unfortunately looks like the three fires may become one, didn’t get too far North but that doesn’t make a difference, the [family] are safe for the moment, power and mobile services are out, roads obviously closed, BOM recording wind ESE at 22km/h gusting to 37 at Ensay.” At the time of writing (4.30pm 21.12) the Vic Emergency maps indicated that the Marthavale-Bruthen fire had not joined the Ensay fire but it soon will if it has not done so already.

Failing heavy rain there can be little doubt that the fires will keep burning for some time (all summer?), that the resources of the CFA and DELWP will stretched to the limit and, as in the other big fires, be deployed protecting homes and assets. I note the massive camp of about 300 tents the CFA have constructed at Swan Reach. At least the bureaucrats understand the seriousness of the matter and are planning (as they should) for a worst case scenario. I know at least one climate hero who will be in this camp at Xmas or out on the fire front somewhere.