Many of the myths (read propaganda) of the Murdoch media about our Black Summer bushfires can be ‘put to bed’. They were obvious to those on the ground. One is that the fires were all started by lightning and not by arsonists. In late November 2019, dry lightning storms ignited a number of bushfires in very dry, isolated, and inaccessible mountainous country. These quickly joined to form four major bushfires of about 10,000 hectares each with massive perimeters making them impossible to control and threatening a catastrophic fire season before the commencement of summer.
A recent study by CSIRO scientists has found a direct link between bushfires and climate change and “that these fires were far from normal. Our new analysis of Australian forest fire trends just published in Nature Communications confirms for the first time the Black Summer fires are part of a clear trend of worsening fire weather and ever-larger forest areas burned by fires.” They found that the “main driver for the growing areas burnt by fire is Australia’s increasingly severe fire weather, accounting for 75% of the variation observed in the total annual area of forest fires. This is consistent with predictions from climate change scenarios that severe fire weather conditions will intensify due to increasing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Another piece of Murdoch propaganda was that prescribed burning could have controlled the fires and that the authorities were negligent in this regard. Aside from noting the confusion in the media between ‘controlled’ or ‘prescribed burns’* (and debatable effectiveness of this anyway ) and back burning the CSIRO asked, “Could fuel loads or prescribed burning be to blame? No. We looked for trends in these factors, and found nothing to explain the rise in burnt areas.”
In a recent trip from Lakes to Eden, my first since the fires, I was able to observe the effects of the 2019/20 summer. After Orbost, the signs were quite clear – the Bellbird Hotel for instance, had been ringed by fire, but survived. After Wingan River signs of crowning were evident with numbers of completely dead trees, reminding me of how hot these fires were and of the New Years Day 2020 catastrophe at Mallacoota.
The CSIRO report concluded: “While many factors contribute to catastrophic fire events, our Black Summer was not an aberration. Rather, it was the continuation of fire trends beginning more than two decades ago. It is now clear that human-induced climate change is creating ever more dangerous conditions for fires in Australia. We need to be ready for more Black Summers – and worse.”
*burning off during the cool season to remove any build-up of inflammable materials whilst back burning is employed during a fire in an attempt to control its spread.