Climate Change, Forests and Fires Part 2

Robyn and John Hermans’ house after the bushfires

Article first published in the Bairnsdale Advertiser 22.7

John Hermans* continues:

The resources needed to ‘fight’ and manage fires are now being increasingly stretched. For example, we have always shared firefighting aircraft with the U.S.A. With fire seasons now so much longer and challenging in each country the overlap in aircraft demand is limiting availability of this resource.

The same is true of our more local resources, CFA trucks, volunteers, heavy machinery, communications networks, water availability, aircraft and people power. They are all in greater demand, in more places, for longer periods of time than ever before.

Longer, hotter fire seasons are also compressing the amount of time available to conduct fuel reduction/management activities, with the window of suitable conditions now shorter than we have ever experienced. More fuel reduction fires are escaping and becoming major events in their own right. Another trend set to continue.

Overwhelmingly, the findings from successive fire inquiries, including royal commissions, supported by virtually all the experts and an ever-increasing body of evidence from Australia and around the world,  show that fires are getting harder to manage due to the increased temperatures caused by human induced climate change.

We know numerous and repeated research has shown that fuel reduction burning in close proximity to assets, such as houses and schools can be very effective at minimising property loss. But research also shows this depends on forest type, only works for the first few years after the ‘controlled burn’, and only helps when fire weather/behaviour is not extreme. Some forest types become less likely to burn if left alone and frequent burning reduces biodiversity. There are always trade-offs with fire management.

Urgent action on global warming is probably the single most effective way to stop fire behaviour from getting exponentially worse. We must address the ‘elephant in the room’ that is climate change.

*John Hermans and his family successfully defended their East Gippsland home from the recent fires. John was also assisted by four decades of informed preparation and understanding of how bushfires work, including consultation with fire agencies, scientists and personal research.