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This is a weekly newsletter put out from December each year through the fire season.

More recent editions at the top, please scroll down for older issues.


Fire news update #9. February 6, 2023

Current and recent fires

Last week, more than 1,000 hectares of bushland near Tara on Queensland's Western Downs was burnt in suspicious circumstances.

A Queensland Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said multiple fires were lit at Wieambilla on Kogan Condamine Road, Old Tara Road and Mary's Road between 10pm Sunday and 3am Monday Jan 30.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-01-30/wieambilla-fire-deliberately-lit-western-downs-tara/101907254

 

Fire in the ACT

There was a fire on the western side of Mt Ainslie, in Canberra yesterday.

 

Firefighters battle dozens of wildfires in Chile

Dozens of wildfires blazing though Chile caused the government to extend an emergency order to another region on Saturday, as a scorching summer heatwave complicates efforts to control fires that have claimed at least 22 lives so far.

In recent days, satellite-based estimates based on NASA FIRMS data  indicate that the largest fire spread 80 kilometers west and northwest, impacting an area of nearly 100,000 hectares.

In tragic news, an emergency-support helicopter in La Araucania crashed late last week, killing its pilot and a mechanic.

With official reports of more than 191 active wildfires, Chile is now receiving much-needed help from its neighbors and abroad.

Argentina announced yesterday that they would send a Chinook helicopter, nearly 70 firefighters, about the equivalent of three Hotshot Crews, multiple trucks, and supplies.

Spain has also sent a large contingent of firefighters to help with the fires still burning in Chile.

https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/firefighters-battle-dozens-wildfires-chile-emergency-extended-2023-02-04/

https://wildfiretoday.com/2023/02/04/chile-wildfires-intensify-disaster-impacts-expand/

 

Climate change and fires

 

To help prevent out-of-control wildfires, US sends $930 million to western states

The U.S. is directing $930 million toward reducing wildfire dangers in 10 western states by clearing trees and underbrush from national forests, the Biden administration announced Thursday, as officials struggle to protect communities from destructive infernos being made worse by climate change.

Under a strategy now entering its second year, the U.S. Forest Service is trying to prevent out-of-control fires that start on public lands from raging through communities. But in an interview with The Associated Press, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack acknowledged that the shortage of workers that has been plaguing other sectors of the economy is hindering the agency's wildfire efforts.

https://www.cpr.org/2023/01/23/to-help-prevent-out-of-control-wildfires-us-sends-930-million-to-western-states/

 

Rocky Mountain subalpine forests now burning more than any time in recent millennia

Climate change is increasing wildfire activity across the western United States, with unprecedented rates of burning expected in many western forests by mid-century. Here, we use a unique network of fire history records to show that after the extreme 2020 fire season, Rocky Mountain subalpine forests are now burning more than at any point in the past 2,000 years, exceeding variability experienced in response to past climate extremes. Increasingly warm, dry conditions in the 21st century are enabling the exceptional rates of burning, including 2020, consistent with long-standing links between climate and fire in subalpine forests. Continued warming will reinforce newly emerging fire regimes, with significant implications for ecosystems and society.

https://www.pnas.org/doi/full/10.1073/pnas.2103135118

 

A rescue plan for the snow gums

It is clear that neither the VIC or NSW governments understand the threats posed to snow gum woodlands from the double impacts of dieback and more frequent fire.

This article provides some thoughts from the USA on how land managers have responded to a similar threat there. The Whitebark Pine is facing similar threats to snow gums from a range of sources.

https://themountainjournal.com/2023/02/03/a-rescue-plan-for-the-snow-gums/

 

Fire culture

 

NCC Bushfire conference

NCC Bushfire Program’s 13th biennial bushfire conference has been announced for the 24th and 25th of May. It is one of the largest and oldest bushfire conferences in Australia. Abstract submissions for those who would like to speak or present a poster at the event are now open, closing on February 27th. Tickets will go on sale in February, with discounts available for not-for-profit groups. Find out more by clicking here.

The theme for this year's conference is “Managing Bushfire Together: Applying science, skills and stories”. The event will have some hybrid (both online and in-person) capacity, although in-person attendance is encouraged in order to enjoy offerings such as the conference dinner and poster session. Abstract submissions are now open for those who are interested in presenting at the event, as either a speaker or during the poster session, and close on the 27th of February. We encourage anyone to come forward with a story to tell, whether in the form of an academic paper or simply a story about their experience with bushfire and bushfire management. Furthermore, conference sponsorship opportunities for businesses, agencies and organisations are also available.

Please visit https://www.nature.org.au/bushfire_conference_2023 for more information on these opportunities, or save the page for when discounted early-bird tickets become available in February.

 

Australia 'not prepared' for fire risk of lithium-ion batteries used in e-scooters, bikes, cars

Australia is "not prepared" for the risk posed by lithium-ion batteries — used in electric scooters, bikes and cars — which have been linked to hundreds of fires across the country, a firefighters' union has warned.  

The United Firefighters Union of Queensland's general secretary, John Oliver, said there had been 27 house fires linked to electric vehicles so far this financial year.

"We're not prepared for this because we're going to get more," he said.

"This isn't a normal fire … firies are worried about it."

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-02-02/lithium-ion-batteries-pose-new-fire-risk-says-firefighters-union/101888598

 

Study: Where there’s smoke, there’s worse wildfires

The smoke from wildfires can change the weather and make fires more destructive, a new study has found. 

The study published on Thursday in Science emphasized the disruptive impacts of the smoke from large wildfires on the weather patterns of entire regions — driving blazes to more destructive heights. 

https://thehill.com/policy/equilibrium-sustainability/3841435-study-where-theres-smoke-theres-worse-wildfires/

 

Fire and community resilience

 

Natural disasters can have a mental health toll. Psychologists say you shouldn't have to wait for help

A peak group representing psychologists wants measures put in place following the Black Summer bushfires extended to any natural disaster

The Australian Association of Psychologists Inc (AAPi) wants to remove the need for people to get a GP referral before seeing a psychologist if they have recently experienced a natural disaster.

The push comes after a recent report found more than half of Australians who experienced climate-fuelled disasters since 2019 said their mental health had been somewhat impacted.

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/natural-disasters-can-have-a-mental-health-toll-psychologists-say-you-shouldnt-have-to-wait-for-help/roe75jarc

 

US Congress Passes Legislation Focused on Resilience and Equity

Earlier this month, the USA Congress passed, with bipartisan support, legislation that will empower communities at heightened risk of natural disasters. Its goal is to help those places implement preventative measures and curb the impacts of future events.

The Community Disaster Resilience Zones (CDRZ) Act amends the 1988 Stafford Act with a requirement that FEMA regularly update datasets that define natural hazard risk factors across the U.S., from flooding and extended droughts to wildfires and extreme heat, which will be leveraged to designate communities that are most in need. Notably, once signed into law, it will authorize the President to provide critical funding for pre-disaster planning.

https://www.architecturalrecord.com/articles/15986-congress-passes-legislation-focused-on-resilience-and-equity

 

Helicopter pilots discuss different approaches to aerial firefighting around the world

An interview with pilot Justin Rath who flies an Air Crane and operates with fire agencies or on contracts all around the world. He discusses how fires are managed in different parts of the world.

https://verticalmag.com/features/turning-down-the-heat

 

Wildfires 2022 – 23 webinar

Wildfires have been among the most talked about natural disasters in the United States over the last decade, the West in particular. Dramatic and deadly, hard to predict, and even harder to manage wildfires and the resulting smoke are a major threat to millions of people around the world.

We have teamed up with the Western Fire Chiefs Association (WFCA), to tackle one of the key tools needed in the fight to protect health and safety (as well as our homes and businesses)–information.

https://blog.plumelabs.com/2023/01/30/wildfires-2022-2023-webinar/

 

Fire and biodiversity

 

Short-term impacts of the 2019–20 fire season on biodiversity in eastern Australia

In December 2020, the Ecological Society of Australia conference held a symposium ‘Short term impacts of the 2019–20 fires in eastern Australia’. This was an attempt to report and discuss early field assessments of those fires that stand as the largest forest fires in Australian history.

There are nine presentations, available at the link below.

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/aec.13247

Screen_Shot_2023-02-06_at_7.56.41_am.png

Fire News update, #8. January 30, 2023

 

Current and recent fires

 

Fires in NSW and Victoria

It was a big week last week in both states, with a large number of grass and scrub fires.

https://www.theleader.com.au/story/8052518/hundreds-of-fires-burning-as-firefighters-plan-for-el-ninos-potential-return/

20230128_125537.jpg

Climate change and fires

 

Record dry spell threatening Tasmania's Wilderness World Heritage Area

Tasmania's west is predicted to continue to dry out due to climate change, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change February 2022 report.

Unusually dry weather is leaving the sensitive ecosystems of the Wilderness World Heritage Area sensitive to fire.

"There's a relentless drying trend, making the landscape really quite receptive to lighting strikes."

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-01-28/rare-endemic-plants-in-tasmania-under-threat-fire-flood/101886256

 

What's driving re-burns across California and the West?

A Re-Burn refers to areas being burnt multiple times in a short period of time (this study defines re-burns as areas that burned multiple times over 10 to 20 years). They are becoming more common in Australia, and in other parts of the world.

Seasonal temperature, moisture loss from plants and wind speed are what primarily drive fires that sweep across the same landscape multiple times.

"Rapid climate change is the force behind these re-burns, which are increasing across the West at roughly the same rate as single-burn fires."

‘By understanding the conditions that fuel re-burns and being able to predict where they might occur, agencies responsible for wildfire mitigation can focus more of their efforts on prescribed burns and thinning and possibly come up with novel effective treatment strategies that are more resistant to re-burns in those areas

https://phys.org/news/2023-01-re-burns-california-west.html

 

Rocky Mountain subalpine forests now burning more than any time in recent millennia

Climate change is increasing wildfire activity across the western United States, with unprecedented rates of burning expected in many western forests by mid-century.

“Here, we use a unique network of fire history records to show that after the extreme 2020 fire season, Rocky Mountain subalpine forests are now burning more than at any point in the past 2,000 years, exceeding variability experienced in response to past climate extremes. Increasingly warm, dry conditions in the 21st century are enabling the exceptional rates of burning, including 2020, consistent with long-standing links between climate and fire in subalpine forests”.

 

https://www.pnas.org/doi/full/10.1073/pnas.2103135118

 

First Nations and fire

 

Kimberley seed smoking trial underway to help rehabilitate Argyle diamond mine

A new smoking method is being trialled on native seeds used to rehabilitate the Argyle diamond mine in WA. The smoking aims to emulate a bushfire to trigger seed germination.

Since Rio Tinto closed its Argyle diamond mine in 2020, traditional owners have been among those working to return the site, about 180km south of Kununurra, closer to its untouched state.

Gelganyem Group, which represents the site's traditional owners, has been involved in accumulating a bank of about 80 different native species, harvested from a 200km radius of the mine.

The group's seed operations manager Riley Shaw said a new smoking treatment was being trialled to encourage seed germination at the once bustling pink diamond mine.

"The idea is that we want to replicate a bushfire," he said.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-01-26/kimberley-seed-smoking-key-to-argyle-diamond-mine-rehabilitation/101734726

 

‘Flame wars’: a look at the work of Michael-Shawn Fletcher

A critique of the work of Michael-Shawn Fletcher’s work on fire and land management. He is a prolific researcher and communicator who argues that conservation law has “created the conditions in which climate-driven bushfires become megafires.”

‘Last November, as summer approached, he co-authored an article in The Conversation claiming that Victoria’s Land Conservation Act 1970 “turned this ‘paradise on Earth’ into a tinderbox”. The article followed another in the journal Fire, which condemned “the curse of conservation”. Across bushfire-prone regions and beyond, these articles generated news reports and magazine features with the same anti-conservation messages. Fletcher’s team claimed their research showed that the devastating 2019–20 bushfires “blew out due to legislation introduced in the 1970s”, which “banned farmers from mimicking Aboriginal burning practices by using frequent fires to promote grass for livestock. As a result, the amount of flammable trees and shrubs exploded in the region.’

This story from the Monthly has perspectives from a range of people, including Wiradjuri man, Richard Swain, Gunaikurnai elder Marj Thorpe and a range of fire specialists and ecologists.

It is well worth a read.

https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2023/february/katherine-wilson/flame-wars

 

Fire culture

 

The 2003 Alpine fires

‘The 2003 bushfires were the biggest in Victoria since 1939, burning about 1.3 million hectares of bushland. This week marks the 20th anniversary of major blazes that impacted communities after lightning had started many fires earlier in the month.

‘By the time it was quelled, 60 days later, the blaze had burned 1.3 million hectares, and threatened towns such as Bright, Mitta Mitta, Benambra, Omeo, Buchan, and Swifts Creek.

‘On January 30, the fire ran a total of 43 kilometres on January 30 — the longest run ever recorded — from near Benambra through to Gelantipy.’

There is a reflection here.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-01-26/memories-still-raw-20-years-on-from-historic-bushfires/101892834

 

Remembering the Aberfeldy fires

‘JAN 24 - 10 years ago, a bushfire broke out in the Aberfeldy area of Gippsland, causing destruction and devastation.

The fire spread rapidly and unexpectedly, covering 20,000 hectares within the first 16 hours.

It also showed signs of a phenomenon called lateral spread, which is uncommon in bushfires and refers to the fire spreading almost opposite to the wind direction.

The fire burned 87,000 hectares, killed one Seaton resident and around 180 head of livestock, destroyed 21 houses and 17 vehicles.

It took two months to bring under control.

The Aberfeldy fires has directly contributed to our understanding, preparation for, and response to bushfires over the past 10 years.

We honour the memory of those who lost their homes, businesses, and loved ones, as well as the brave firefighters who worked tirelessly to contain the fire’.

https://www.facebook.com/FFMVic

 

Learning about wildfire in the UK

After the widespread fires that occurred in the UK and Europe in their most recent summer, emergency services are working to update their skills in fighting wild fire (does anyone remember the images of firefighters in England and France structural gear fighting bushfires in extreme heat?)

Now the Met Office has a new course on wildfires, aimed at emergency workers.

 

Black summer report

A new report has been published by Natural Hazards Research Australia (the Centre) that summarises the key research findings from the wide-ranging Black Summer research program, undertaken by the Centre and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC in the years since the 2019-20 fire season.

The report – Understanding the Black Summer bushfires through research: a summary of key findings from the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC – presents findings from 23 projects within four research themes, covering different issues and knowledge gaps that arose from Black Summer:

  • fire predictive services
  • cultural land management
  • community-centred disaster risk reduction
  • bushfire data and reconstruction.

https://www.naturalhazards.com.au/black-summer

 

Firefighters’ careers could be impacting their reproductive health

High temperatures, stress and the ‘forever chemicals’ firefighters are exposed to could be factors in pregnancy and fertility complications, new research shows.

This is from the USA but well worth a read.

“There’s this huge growth [in research], but the downside is … that a lot of that has been focused on White males, because that’s the largest proportion of folks in the fire service.”

To remediate that trend, in 2017, the center started a study of over 3,000 women firefighters in North America (it did not include trans or nonbinary people, many of whom are also impacted).

https://19thnews.org/2023/01/firefighter-career-impact-fertility-pregnancy-concerns/

 

AI wildfire detection bill gets initial approval in Colorado

A year after the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history scorched nearly 1,100 homes, Colorado lawmakers are considering joining other Western states by adopting artificial intelligence in the hopes of detecting blazes before they burn out of control.

A Colorado Senate committee on Thursday unanimously voted to move forward a bill to create a $2 million pilot program that would station cameras on mountaintops, and use artificial intelligence to monitor the footage and help detect early signs of a wildfire. The bill will move to the state Senate Appropriations Committee next.

https://apnews.com/article/wildfires-technology-science-colorado-state-government-0475feb5504eaaf0a5094b67e97b8d4d

 

Fire and community resilience

 

Montana must build housing for the fires and floods of tomorrow

This is a story that is playing out around the world: as fires become more frequent how to we harden human settlements to be more able to resist fire?

This example of the debate comes from Montana, and includes the question of how authorities can change housing guidelines in a way that is able to deliver affordable, attainable housing.

https://helenair.com/opinion/columnists/patty-hernandez-montana-must-build-housing-for-the-fires-and-floods-of-tomorrow/article_74e4e01a-318e-59b2-955e-d162c15add6e.html

 

Climate Change Trauma: You’re Not Alone!

‘Anxiety and trauma have become common effects of living and surviving in our rapidly overheating and intensely polluted globe. Scientists tell us over and over that we are well on our way to unthinkable consequences in the very near future. In fact, many people have already experienced such horrific events. If you are feeling battered by climate change, you definitely are not alone.’

https://www.coloradoboulevard.net/climate-change-trauma-youre-not-alone/

 

Malls think green after acting as community hubs in disasters

‘The devastating floods in NSW and fires in Victoria last year, together with the summer heat across the rest of the country proved to mall landlords that their properties need to be climate-proof and act as hubs for the community when disasters hit.

Region, formerly SCA Property, says malls need to support their customers in times of need.

“We are not just malls because in times of crisis, such as floods and bushfires, the properties are evacuation hubs, and we offer a range of community facilities for areas affected by these natural disasters.”

https://www.theage.com.au/business/companies/malls-think-green-after-acting-as-community-hubs-in-disasters-20221207-p5c4e5.html

 

Fire and biodiversity

 

Drought-driven “mortality event” is the largest ever recorded in western USA

It’s a familiar story in forests around the world: droughts, heatwaves, disease and insects are causing record numbers of trees in native forests to die.

For instance, recent research in the western USA has found that Fir trees in Oregon and Washington died in record-breaking numbers in 2022. The situation is so bad that researchers have called it ‘Firmageddon.’

And as in Australia, loss of trees increase fire risk:

‘Unsurprisingly, having more than half the fir trees dead in some of these forests poses a major fire risk.

A dangerous fire period can occur within the first two years following a major die-off.

During these critical first two years, dead trees continue to hold onto their dried-out needles in the canopy of the forest.

This makes severe crown fires far more likely should a fire start.

When this happens fire can jump from treetop to treetop, leading to large scale destruction.

“It [wildfire] can just go from tree to tree, not even touching the ground hardly, and just burn the entire canopy. “That is the worst fire there is. It’s the most dangerous and hardest to control.”

https://www.invw.org/2022/12/01/massive-die-off-hits-fir-trees-across-pacific-northwest/#:~:text=Fir%20trees%20in%20Oregon%20and,trees%20in%20the%20two%20states

 

Fires in the north – 2022

This comes from Rohan Fisher, North Aust NRM/fire scientist

Fires across Australia in 2022. A reasonably big year in central Aust after a few wet years producing a lot of fuel. Most fire, as always, across the flammable northern Savannas.

A massive amount of work by northern fire managers can be seen in the largely smaller, cooler burns before July. Even with some severe fire conditions later in the year a good outcome overall. Data from http://firenorth.org.au

N_Aust_fires.jpg

Fire news update, #7, January 23, 2023

Current and recent fires

I’ve been offline the last few days and haven’t caught up with the news on local recent/ current fires. 

The southern hemisphere fire season continues to be bad in the south of South America. There is currently extreme fire behavior in San Javier, Chile today. Multiple aviation resources have been deployed to both Chile and Argentina from the United States to help.

 

Climate change and fires

 

Warning of unprecedented heatwaves as El Niño set to return in 2023

There is a growing narrative that El Nino conditions will return during this year, and therefore next fire season will be more similar to the conditions of 2019/20 than the last two summers.

‘The return of the El Niño climate phenomenon later this year will cause global temperatures to rise “off the chart” and deliver unprecedented heatwaves, scientists have warned.

Early forecasts suggest El Niño will return later in 2023, exacerbating extreme weather around the globe and making it “very likely” the world will exceed 1.5C of warming. The hottest year in recorded history, 2016, was driven by a major El Niño.’

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jan/16/return-of-el-nino-will-cause-off-the-chart-temperature-rise-climate-crisis

 

A bit more on El Nino and likely impacts on fire.

‘The three years of La Niñas have seen strong vegetation growth which could turn into lots of fuel for fires if conditions turn drier and hotter

“The propensity for landscapes to burn is going to be jaw-dropping,” Bowman says.

“We could unfortunately see very serious fire activity and for the public, that’s very difficult to wrap your mind around when it’s been so wet. But you will see these landscapes move into highly flammable states.”

Bowman says the wet years have promoted grass growth, which he said was “the petrol of bushfire fuel” that burns fast and intense.

“Of course we’re all worried [about an El Niño] because we’ve been living with these other threats of flooding. But it’s going to come roaring back at us.

  • Prof David Bowman, a bushfire expert at the University of Tasmania

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/jan/22/after-the-flood-what-an-el-nino-might-mean-for-australias-ecosystems

 

Fire culture

 

The 2003 ACT fires

Last week marked the 20th anniversary of the devastating 2003 Canberra Bushfires which claimed the lives of 4 people and destroyed more than 500 homes. There were a considerable number of reflections on what we have learned about fires since then, including these:

 

Andrew Gissing writing for The Conversation:

‘Today, we know much more about how extreme bushfires behave, we have computer models to show where they might move to, and our communications and warnings have vastly improved. We have now had 20 years of a coordinated national research effort on bushfire, and developing this science has made all Australians safer.

While even the best science doesn’t aim to eliminate fire from our land and there remains much to learn, as a country we are better placed to respond swiftly when a bushfire strikes. And crucially, we better understand risk – the Canberra fires showed even urban communities can be in danger if close enough to the bush.

https://theconversation.com/20-years-ago-vast-bushfires-razed-canberras-suburbs-and-bushfire-science-was-never-the-same-197899

 

Clare Skinner, writing for On the Ward, who discusses the impacts of large fires on the public health system and the people who work within them. There are also links to some great resources.

https://onthewards.org/bushfire-sun/

 

ABC video report:

With the advent of the 20th anniversary of the deadly blaze, many residents reflect on their own narrow escapes and continue to raise questions about why there hadn't been an adequate warning system.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-01-15/residents-and-firefighters-mark-20th-anniversary/101857208

 

Firefighter Vivien Thomson reflects on the 2003 fires:

Thomson described flames burning the same ground once, twice, three times despite having no fuel left to consume and leaping from treetop to treetop without igniting the forest floor.

"The fire behaviour and what was happening was like nothing, absolutely nothing, any of us had seen before," she said.

https://www.9news.com.au/national/canberra-bushfires-2003-anniversary-deadly-fire-remembered-20-years-on/9578480d-8eb1-492e-813c-7229a8998d77

 

Book review: Fire: A Message from the Edge of Climate Catastrophe

Margi Prideaux (Stormbird); Saving the Reef – Rohan Lloyd (University of Queensland Press).

The Australian Black Summer fires of 2019-2020 were unspeakably grim. Twenty-four million hectares were burnt, 33 people died, and over a billion animals perished.

In Fire: A Message from the Edge of Climate Catastrophe, Margi Prideaux tells us that on Kangaroo Island, which lies off the Australian mainland, just south-west of Adelaide, 211,500 hectares were burnt, two human lives were lost – a fire-fighting father and son – and 60,000 farm animals died.

But so much more was lost as the Kangaroo Island community sought to save itself from the monster fire that was started by a lightning strike, burst into two pyrocumulonimbus clouds, and devoured everything before it at lethal, unstoppable speed.

https://theconversation.com/writing-from-the-edge-of-catastrophe-two-new-books-clarify-whats-at-stake-if-we-fail-to-mitigate-climate-change-193846

 

Fire and community resilience

 

Natural disasters are taking a rising toll on the mental health of Australians

Frequent and intense natural disasters profoundly affect the mental health of Australians, a poll conducted by the Climate Council and supported by Beyond Blue has found.

The survey of 2032 Australians found that since 2019, 80 per cent of respondents reported experiencing at least one heatwave, flooding, bushfire, drought, cyclone or a destructive storm.

Half of those surveyed said their mental health had been negatively affected by the extreme weather event they experienced, and one in five reported a major or moderate impact on their mental health.

https://thenewdaily.com.au/life/science/environment/2023/01/18/mental-health-natural-disasters/

Kyneton1.jpg

Fire News update, #6. Jan 16, 2023

 

Current and recent fires

 

Fires across most states

Much of the country continues to experience hot and dry conditions and fire. While large sections of central and north Queensland is experiencing extreme rain events, fires are burning in the ACT, NSW, Victoria and SA. WA continues to struggle with fires that were caused by lightning last week.

For a general overview of the flood and fire events, check here: https://thenewdaily.com.au/weather/2023/01/15/wild-weather-extreme-season/

 

Victoria

‘Residents of two rural towns in far western Victoria have been warned about two dangerous bushfires which are threatening more than 50 properties near the South Australian border.

VicEmergency warned those living in Kadnook, around 100 kilometres north-west of Hamilton, that it was too late to leave their homes and they should seek shelter from the seven-hectare fire.’

https://www.watoday.com.au/national/victoria/too-late-to-leave-two-bushfires-threaten-homes-in-western-victoria-20230115-p5cco1.html

As of this morning, warnings for these fires have been downgraded to watch and act.

 

South Australia

‘Two firefighters are recovering after being injured fighting a blaze in the Adelaide Hills in extreme conditions yesterday.’

The CFS also battled a blaze that began at Hawthorndene, near the Belair National Park in the Mount Lofty Ranges, on Saturday night.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-01-15/mounty-lofty-ranges-fires-threat-reduced/101856642

 

Fires in lutruwita/ Tasmania

It’s been consistently dry in the west of the state and some World Heritage Areas are being impacted by fires. Remote-area firefighters from the Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) have been working to control the fire, burning at Bonnet Bay on the shores of Lake Pedder, since it was reported on January 6.

A fire in the same region in 2018 burnt for weeks and destroyed at least 187,000 hectares of wilderness

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-01-10/bonnet-bay-lake-bushfire-in-mop-up-stage-ahead-of-heatwave/101836978

As a footnote to this story, the amount of vegetation burnt by fires caused by lightning strikes in Tasmania’s world heritage area has increased dramatically this century, according to research led by the University of Tasmania.

The study, published in the academic journal Fire, warns that the state’s heritage forests face rising threats because of the tendency toward drier summers and that the probability of “catastrophic” fires could increase as a result of more fuel igniting from lightning strikes.

https://themountainjournal.com/2021/01/15/increase-in-lightning-strikes-expected-to-ignite-more-wildfires/#more-8937

 

Queensland

Queensland's bushfire season typically begins in July and runs through until October, but thanks to a La Niña weather pattern across most of the state, the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) are keeping a close eye on conditions in anticipation of an early start.

Bushfire mitigation executive manager for QFES and the Rural Fire Service, James Haig, says despite forecasts of increased rainfall over summer, the risk of bushfires is still very high.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2023-01-09/queensland-bushfire-season-concern-rises-after-la-nina-rain/101737626

 

Climate change and fires

 

Call for bushfire resourcing boost in face of climate change threat

Two decades after the 2003 firestorm, the ACT’s firefighting forces are stretched thin along a longer urban-rural fringe and the government needs to do more so the Territory can adapt to the reality of more frequent and intense bushfires due to a changing climate, a new report has found.

The Report on ACT Bushfire Management since 2003 from the ACT Multi Hazard Advisory Council says that while much has been done since the 18 January disaster that killed four people and destroyed 488 homes, the government now needs to take a more strategic, long-term approach to bushfire management, including boosting the numbers of both professional and volunteer firefighters, as well as harnessing community-based responses.

https://the-riotact.com/call-for-bushfire-resourcing-boost-in-face-of-climate-change-threat/626617

 

Australian bushfires burning hotter, more often in recent decades compared to past millennia

‘What will happen to bushfire intensity and frequency in the future? The short answer is: we don't know.

But it is possible that, under various levels of global warming, there could be the same number of or even fewer fires in savannas after a while.

That's because more fires sweeping through a region that already burns often, combined with less rainfall, will eventually mean there's nothing left to burn.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2023-01-13/bushfires-australia-history-lakes-sediment-cores-charcoal/101588236

 

Fire culture

 

First electric fire truck in USA starts operation

The first electric fire truck in the U.S., a Rosenbauer RTX, has been delivered to a fire brigade in Los Angeles.

The RTX is a range-extended electric vehicle, with a diesel engine acting as a generator to help charge the 132-kwh battery pack. The BMW-sourced 3.0-liter inline-6 kicks on when the charge drops to 20%, and can recharge the battery pack in about 45 minutes.

The RTX can operate for about two hours on battery power alone, plus another six hours on diesel power. Its onboard water pumps can be electrically driven, or operated by the diesel range extender.

https://www.motorauthority.com/news/1135900_lafd-electric-fire-engine-delivered

 

Fire and community resilience

 

Pandemic, fires and floods prompt new approaches to preparing Victoria's multicultural communities for emergencies

"We became aware after the bushfires that there were a number of people from multicultural backgrounds [who] were not aware of how to respond to serious crisis situations," North East Multicultural Association (NEMA) president Ian Prentice said.

"[They] face a number of difficulties — [such as] language barriers, being isolated geographically and socially — and we felt that we needed to increase the connection with the people … who have migrated from other countries."

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-01-14/multicultural-communities-prepare-for-emergencies-in-victoria/101817356

 

Fire risk map ignites controversy

An interesting look at what happened in Oregon when the state government developed a Fire Risk map for the state.

‘Mitigating fire risk is an urgent issue throughout the West, including Oregon, where wildfires burned a record-breaking number of homes in 2020. Oregon’s new property assessment, part of broader wildfire legislation, marked an inflection point in its state-level wildfire response; for the first time, the state designated wildfire risk with the intent of regulating statewide home-defense measures’.

https://www.hcn.org/issues/55.1/north-wildfire-fire-risk-map-ignites-controversy

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Fire News update, #5. Jan 16, 2023

Current fires

Despite flooding in the north, fires continue to rage in the south west of WA. Check here for current updates.

https://www.emergency.wa.gov.au/#firedangerratings

 

As reported in the last newsletter, inland areas which have experienced two years of good rain are now facing really significant threat from grass fires.

https://www.theage.com.au/environment/weather/as-la-nina-weakens-fire-threat-looms-20230102-p5c9vj.html

 

There was a significant fire near Gilgandra, to the north of Dubbo, yesterday that required cross agency collaboration and air support to contain.

https://www.dailyliberal.com.au/story/8040874/planes-and-graders-assist-fire-fighting-crew-in-gilgandra-grassfire/

Australia could swing from three years of La Niña to hot and dry El Niño in 2023

As fire season really takes off here, its worth having a think about what next summer might be like. After two mild and relatively wet fire seasons, it is inevitable that it will swing back to hot and dry conditions.

Recent reporting considers what may be on the cards:

‘Australia could swing from three years of above-average rainfall to one of the hottest, driest El Niño periods on record, as models show an increasing likelihood the climate driver may form in the Pacific in 2023.

The latest climate models used by the Bureau of Meteorology – which will update its forecasts on Wednesday – indicate sea-surface temperatures may exceed El Niño thresholds in the key region of the equatorial Pacific by June.’

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/jan/04/australia-could-swing-from-three-years-of-la-nina-to-hot-and-dry-el-nino-in-2023

 

Climate change and fires

 

The 2003 Alpine fires 20 years on

It is 20 years since the 2003 Alpine fires tore through much of the Victorian high country.

On 8 January 2003, lightning strikes ignited 87 fires, 8 of which would join to form the largest fire in Victoria since the 1939 Black Friday bushfires, burning through 60% of the Alpine National Park.

For more than 40 days, several high country townships, including Mt Hotham and Dinner Plain, were under threat from a fire that would ultimately burn 1.3 million hectares, destroying 41 homes and upwards of 9,000 livestock.

According to Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMV), emergency workers and volunteers from across 35 agencies, including more than 4,000 firefighters, helped protect community, landscapes and property over that summer. There is a great set of images from the fires on the FFMV facebook page.

Since that time, fire has become more common in the high country. A lot has changed since then, both in terms of how we fight fires, and the resources we have available to do so.

https://themountainjournal.com/2023/01/08/20-years-on-from-the-2003-alpine-fires/

 

Addressing the Threat of Wildfires to Water Supplies: Meet Laura Harger

In the west of the USA, climate change is driving fires into areas that have not normally burnt very often. This is causing problems for water supplies in some areas. This is a brief interview with National Wildland Fire Management Program Coordinator Laura Harger about how the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is responding to the threat of fire in water catchments.

https://www.doi.gov/wildlandfire/addressing-threat-wildfires-water-supplies-meet-laura-harger

 

Key solutions to devastating wildfires still not enacted in Colorado

The Marshall Fire, the most destructive in Colorado history, killed two people and incinerated 1,084 residences and seven businesses within hours. Financial losses are expected to top $2 billion.

The blaze showed that Colorado and much of the West face a fire threat unlike anything they have seen. No longer is the danger limited to homes adjacent to forests. Urban areas are threatened, too.

Yet despite previous warnings of this new threat, ProPublica found Colorado’s response hasn’t kept pace. Legislative efforts to make homes safer by requiring fire-resistant materials in their construction have been repeatedly stymied by developers and municipalities, while taxpayers shoulder the growing cost to put out the fires and rebuild in their aftermath.

https://www.denverpost.com/2022/12/28/colorado-wildfire-prevention-marshall

 

First Nations and fire

 

The future of large landscape conservation begins with Indigenous communities

A look at the changing way large conservation estates are managed in the USA.

https://www.hcn.org/issues/54.11/public-lands-the-future-of-large-landscape-conservation-begins-with-indigenous-communities

 

Healing with fire on koala country

This is a rerun of a story that was first aired last April and is well worth a listen.

‘Australia’s Black Summer bushfires killed billions of native animals and brought one of the country’s most iconic species closer to the brink of extinction.

Another legacy of the bushfires has been a groundswell of support for traditional Aboriginal fire management practices. On sacred Country, in the land of the Yuin people, cultural burning is being reintroduced to protect the habitat of the last known koala population on the far south coast of NSW.’

https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/earshot/healing-with-fire-in-koala-country/13809152

 

Fire culture

 

Attempt to ban prescribed fire in New Mexico

A Senator in New Mexico intends to introduce a Bill to ban prescribed fire during spring. The Law, if passed, would prohibit prescribed burns from ANY Government body. This is as a result of a significant fire (Calf Canyon) that happened as a result of planned burns that got away, which burnt more than 500 homes.

https://thehotshotwakeup.substack.com/p/the-echos-of-calf-canyonhermits-peak

 

Fire and community resilience

 

Flood and fire-prone communities turn to UHF CB radio networks in disaster preparation

This one is from before Christmas.

Radio expert John Miller is helping about 20 communities across the Northern Rivers set up their own radio networks as a failsafe form of communication during future disasters.

He said the issue with almost all modern telecommunications systems, including mobile phones and internet, was that they relied on land-based infrastructure networks that could lose power or be damaged in fires and floods.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-12-23/disaster-communities-go-back-basics-with-cb-radios/101652486

 

‘People are at breaking point’: Still waiting for a home in Mallacoota

A look at what is happening and how the environment and community is coping three years on.

After the frenzy of the fire and post-fire period when the Mallacoota community was in overdrive helping one another and the local animals, and after the constant moving and worry about housing and work, Robinson is exhausted. “It’s a matter of touch and feel it as you go. I just get one thing done at a time.”

https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/people-are-at-breaking-point-still-waiting-for-a-home-in-mallacoota-20221230-p5c9f8.html

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Fire news update #4. January 2, 2023

Current fires

It’s here

After a wet spring, much of the east has seen limited fire activity until now. WA continues to burn, with large areas at risk: for instance, check the WA Fire Weather Warning for Central West, Swan In North, Geographe, Brockman, Mortlock, Karroun, Avon.

https://alerts3.ewn.com.au/202301/010123.htm

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And in NSW: Authorities warn inland New South Wales may be facing the most "significant grassfire season" in more than a decade due to high fuel loads in the wake of heavy rainfall.

Grass and vegetation growth across western and central-west NSW have been supercharged by the record rains that have flooded river systems this year.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2022-12-30/nsw-rfs-warns-of-grassfires-during-summer-after-flooding/101814414

 

Last week a fire in western lutruwita/ Tasmania impacted the mining town of Rosebery, destroying several significant and historic buildings. Tasmania's west was forecast to experience above-normal fire potential this summer, following continued dry conditions.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-12-28/rosebery-fire-burned-down-essential-accommodation/101812008

 

And fires are taking off in inland Victoria, especially in the grassy agricultural zones of the centre, north and west.

Meanwhile, Chile has seen extraordinary wildfire behavior devastate local communities. Drier-than-normal conditions, heavy winds, and a high number of human-caused starts or arsons are fueling multiple incidents around the country.

The community of Viña del Mar saw hundreds of homes destroyed and multiple civilian casualties. A State of Catastrophe was declared with The Chilean President Gabriel Boric Font declaring: "I have instructed a State of Constitutional Exception of Catastrophe to be decreed in order to have all the necessary tools to fight the fires that affect Viña del Mar.

The Ministry of Agriculture has released a statement that an Air Tractor, commonly known as a SEAT or Single Engine Air Tanker, crashed while operating on a wildfire in the Galvarino region. Sadly, the pilot was killed.

 

Climate change and fires

Wildfires are climbing up the snowiest mountains of the western U.S.

In the western United States, natural periods of fire and snow are cyclical. The summer brings wildfire season, and the winter brings ski season. But as the globe warms, these cycles have become erratic and less reliable, with dramatic impacts on the region’s vital water supply.

Now, researchers have shown that severe wildfires are diminishing many snowpacks on mountain slopes by leaving them exposed to sun and soot.

https://news.mongabay.com/2022/12/wildfires-are-climbing-up-the-snowiest-mountains-of-the-western-u-s/

 

First Nations and fire

What if Indigenous women ran controlled burns?

The Karuk Tribe’s first-of-its-kind training seeks to change firefighting culture.

Historically, in Káruk society, women were responsible for maintaining village areas with fire. Men burned, too, but farther away, usually on remote hunting grounds. But cultural fire was suppressed in 1911, when the Weeks Act outlawed igniting fires on public lands. Today, that colonialist law is still considered a conservation landmark.

Recently, however, prescribed burns have gained favor with the Forest Service, and in 2008, it worked with The Nature Conservancy and several agencies from the Department of the Interior to organize the first TREX. They’ve occurred around the country ever since.

https://www.hcn.org/issues/55.1/indigenous-affairs-wildfire-what-if-indigenous-women-ran-controlled-burns

 

Fire culture

Three years since the Mallacoota fire

On Thursday 1 January 2020, the fires that had already burnt 1.3 million hectares in the East Gippsland and North East areas of Victoria, killing millions of animals, were declared the worst fire season Australia had ever seen.

In Mallacoota, tourists and residents were forced to seek refuge on the beach as fires burnt towards the town. Many were evacuated by boat. Volunteer and career firefighters worked for many days to defend the town. It was one of the worst days of the Black Summer fires.

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How Hollywood gets wildfires all wrong

The new CBS drama series Fire Country, about a group of prisoners turned volunteer firefighters in Northern California, is aflame with the raging pyrotechnics and human melodrama that audiences have come to expect from pop culture takes on wildfires and the people who bravely tackle them.

But despite its popularity with the public, Fire Country hasn't been a big hit with firefighters.

"It's just another traumatized Hollywood production," Eugene, Oregon-based firefighter Megan Bolten told NPR.

https://www.npr.org/2022/12/27/1144414570/how-hollywood-gets-wildfires-all-wrong-much-to-the-frustration-of-firefighters

 

Fire and community resilience

Cobargo sets micro grid ambition as part of bushfire recovery effort

(Behind pay wall).

https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/8031360/were-all-struggling-microgrid-part-of-cobargo-bushfire-recovery-effort/

 

Fire and biodiversity

As dry season looms, Sumatra villagers hope their peat restoration pays off

Community-led efforts to restore degraded peatlands in Indonesia’s Riau province could be put to the test in early 2023 as the dry season sets in.

Riau is the perennial epicenter of the burning season on Sumatra Island, and is expected to have a more intense dry season after three consecutive years of wetter-than-usual conditions due to La Niña.

A broad coalition of local governments, communities, researchers and NGOs have been working to restore peatlands that had been drained in preparation for planting, with the hope that restoring water levels will prevent burning.

https://news.mongabay.com/2022/12/as-dry-season-looms-sumatra-villagers-hope-their-peat-restoration-pays-off/

 

Take action

We know that logging of native forest drives increased risk of devastating wildfire.

With a new environment minister in Victoria, there is a good opportunity for the government to bring forward it's planned end to native forest logging. You can support this call here.

 

Fire News update, #3. December 19, 2022


Fires are part of life here in Australia. Many of our landscapes are fire adapted or fire reliant, and First Nations people have been using fire for millennia to manage and craft the landscapes we now live in.

However, climate change is driving ever more intense fire seasons. This newsletter provides a weekly update on news relating to fire, climate, community and natural resilience, and land management. It is sent out each Monday morning during fire season.

Current fires

Bushfire emergency continues for parts of Perth's south as 100 firefighters battle blaze

The fire season continues in SW WA:

There are 100 firefighters on the scene, trying to contain an out-of-control bushfire threatening lives and homes in the southwest of Perth.

Overnight wind changes are expected to hamper efforts to contain the fire, Incident Controller David Gill warned.

"That'll put some pressure on the western end of the fire edge and may push the fire closer to the coast later this evening,"

https://www.9news.com.au/national/western-australia-bushfire-city-of-kwinana-and-city-of-cockburn/67e7d8cb-7e9b-4300-96aa-9113e31e0b80

 

Wildfires rip through Chile as temperatures soar

As much of Australia slowly moves towards fire season, soaring temperatures in Chile have intensified wildfires across parts of the country.

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-latin-america-64008045

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IMAGE: The 30,000 foot view of the wildfires in Chile. South America’s fire season is heating up.

Source: https://twitter.com/HotshotWake/status/1604677116511002626

 

Climate change and fires

Australian Firefighters Climate Alliance seeks your views.

What issues do you want the AFCA to work on this summer? Their campaign last fire season focused on encouraging the federal government to lift it's climate ambition. Here are the ideas submitted so far. You can contact them via their website.

AFCA_campaign.png

First Nations and fire

 

Fire culture

Issues that matter to firefighters.

A look at California’s summer

Although it was a long fire season across North America, in California, there was a ‘a welcome change of pace for fire-weary’ communities.

It has indeed been a remarkably different year. A couple of factors led to that: we didn’t have lightning igniting hundreds of fires simultaneously, and the weather was a little better, though it certainly wasn’t perfect—we had a six or seven day period of the highest temperatures ever recorded in California. Luckily that heat didn’t come with wind this year. We have seen more prescribed burns and thinning in the last five years, and some of these fuel treatments reduced fire behavior to allow for more effective suppression. Also, CalFire increased resources for initial attack, picking up fires as early as possible.

https://www.ppic.org/blog/californias-2022-fire-season-a-remarkably-different-year/

 

Fire and community resilience

Lessons on Resistance From a Child of the First Climate-Change Generation

In the climate communications field, we debate constantly and bitterly about the ways we talk about climate change. Our stories can’t be too depressing—then people will shut down. They can’t be too rosy—that would be misleading. And that’s just when we’re talking about how to communicate to adults. When it comes to children, even the communicators seem to shut down. No one wants to think about looking into those sweet, innocent faces and tell them the truth about the world they’ve been brought into.

But, as James Baldwin once said, “the children are always ours. Every single one of them. All around the globe.” And it is our job, as their elders, to make them ready to face the world that awaits them. It is our responsibility to tell them about climate change. After all, they can see it with their naked eyes. If we don’t tell them, they will tell us.

https://www.thenation.com/article/society/climate-change-children-gen-z/

 

Clashing laws need to be fixed if we want to live in bushfire-prone areas

As we prepare for the next major fire season, it’s vital we take a close look at our laws. Why? Because these laws can clash in ways that make it harder for us to prepare.

In recent years, planning laws have been changed to make it easier to fell trees and clear vegetation to keep our homes safe. Some of these came out of the review of Victoria’s catastrophic 2009 Black Saturday fires, where many houses nestled in bush burned. But these changes to the rules about clearing native vegetation can also make it harder for us to preserve habitat – and can give us a false sense of security, encouraging us to settle deeper and deeper into the fire-prone bush.

https://theconversation.com/clashing-laws-need-to-be-fixed-if-we-want-to-live-in-bushfire-prone-areas-195210

 

Fire and biodiversity

Bad fire science can kill our threatened species

Phil Zylstra takes another look at fuel reduction burning.

Australia has the world’s worst record for mammal extinction – and we know fire is one of the main culprits. Yet prescribed burning relies on outdated or even disproved theories and assumptions about fire.

Bad fire science is killing our threatened species, but alternatives are available. These approaches reinforce, rather than disrupt, natural ecological controls on forest fire. They include traditional Indigenous fire knowledge, and modern techniques to minimise the extent of dense regrowth in the landscape.

By cooperating with nature to minimise fire risk, we can protect species that have persisted through aeons.

https://theconversation.com/bad-fire-science-can-kill-our-threatened-species-its-time-to-cooperate-with-nature-196363


Fire News update, #2, December 12, 2022

Current fires

Flood-impacted communities among those facing fire risk this summer

Regions impacted by this year’s floods are among the communities at highest risk of fire, with the latest seasonal outlook indicating large parts of inland New South Wales and southern Queensland are facing above normal fire potential this season.

The Seasonal Bushfire Outlook for Summer 2022, released today by AFAC, the National Council for Fire and Emergency Services, predicts parts of Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Tasmania, Queensland and a large section of inland New South Wales will all face above normal fire potential this summer.

The outlook shows the vast majority of Australia is facing normal, or above normal, fire potential.

Across the country only the ACT and parts of Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales are expected to experience below normal fire potential.

The heavy rain has fuelled strong grass growth across much of western NSW. RFS Commissioner Rob Rogers said the state was facing its most significant grass fire threat in more than 20 years, particularly for western parts of NSW.

Story here.

Its happening in WA

As the area experiences an extreme heatwave, there are multiple fires burning in northern WA.

And as Western Australia heads into another risky bushfire season, communities ravaged by fire in recent years say they are worried about their safety, despite being better equipped to deal with a disaster. News stories from the ABC quote ‘stretched’ volunteers, failure to improve local phone black spots, and lack of preparedness in some communities as a problem.

On Tuesday, the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council advised drier parts of southern Western Australia to prepare for "above normal fire potential" this summer. 

Check Emergency WA for details on specific fires.

Climate change and fires

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Wildfires: Burning Through State Budgets

Wildfires in the United States have become more catastrophic and expensive in recent years, with the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service nearly doubling their combined spending on wildfire management in the last decade.

As more frequent and severe fires drive up public spending, policymakers at all levels of government are faced with decisions about how to pay for the diverse array of interventions required to deal with them.

Story from Pew Trusts here.

First Nations and fire

Please feel free to send content for next time.

Fire culture

Issues that impact on firefighters.

Remembering the Linton tragedy

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December 2 marked the anniversary of the 1998 Linton bushfire which tragically claimed the lives of five CFA firefighters from Geelong West Fire Brigade.

‘We honour and remember the loss of Matthew Armstrong, Jason Thomas, Chris Evans, Stuart Davidson and Garry Vredeveldt, and the sacrifice they made in protection of their community’.

‘In honouring them, we also recognise the important lessons that we learned as an organisation from that day and the significant improvements that have been made to our safety procedures, communication, training and equipment as a result.

The Linton fire brought in the biggest change in training requirements for our members in CFA history. This included the introduction of compulsory minimum skills training and annual skill-based refresher training prior to each summer fire season’.

(Text: CFA. Image: Warburton CFA)

A reminder that our work can be dangerous:

A firefighter received a head injury whilst fighting a blaze in northern NSW last week. She was admitted to hospital for observation and - thankfully - has now been released.

'Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) and Rural Fire Service (RFS) crews battled explosions and large blaze in a vehicle scrap yard at Trenayr, north of Grafton on Monday NOV 28.

More than 15 fire trucks responded to the emergency in Trenayr Road, just before 6pm on Monday evening.'

Story here.

Fire and community resilience

CITIZEN LEADERSHIP AND COMMUNITY RESILIENCE: An exploration of Australian disaster affected communities

An interesting report on community resilience and community leadership after natural disasters.

‘The project was created in the aftermath of the 2019-2020 bushfires, following which all communities were impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has magnified the prospects of economic recession, heightened concerns around climate change, and
emphasised with the increasing implications of social polarisation and inequity. All of these factors impact community resilience.

Connecting with communities in South Australia and Victoria, representatives from each community volunteered to be trained in the elicitation of ‘lived-experience’ stories, and to collect stories from within their communities which explored experiences of citizen leadership and its role in community resilience. Report here.

Home insurance rethink needed with continued climate change-related disasters

From Jeremy Moss:

We must prepare to experience extreme weather events like damaging floods, bushfires and cyclones into the future - according to the latest CSIRO State of the Climate report out last week, while hundreds of thousands of people find their homes have become uninsurable or premiums becoming unaffordable.

What's really needed is a total rethink of how we do home insurance, and for the federal government to step up nationally, as they did with medical insurance. It is vital there is some mechanism for people in these disaster zones to affordably insure these homes. It is unfair to transfer the risk of floods and bushfires onto households, especially vulnerable ones. Story here.

Australian Resilience Corps

The ARC is described as a ‘growing number of Australians who want to assist communities to prepare for disasters and extreme weather events like fires and floods. Resilience and preparedness can take many forms, from helping to prepare a home for the fire season through to being equipped to provide emotional support to someone impacted by a flood. We welcome all volunteers, whatever your ability and capacity to contribute.’

They say it is a ‘national volunteer network determined to reduce the devastation caused by fire and flood across our great land.

‘Working with and through our existing volunteer partners, our aim is to create a culture focused on building resilience. By bringing together corporates, volunteer partners and community members, we will be able to reduce the impact of fire and flood disasters right across Australia’.

Further information available here.

Fire and biodiversity

We all know how terrible the damage can be to creeks and rivers after a bad bushfire. This is some serious stream side stabilisation from the USA after this summer’s fires:

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“Wildfires can = vegetation loss, erosion & increased water runoff that may = flooding, + sediment, debris flow, & other damage. #FireJobs assist w recovery efforts by installing erosion & water run-off control structures”.

Courtesy of  the National Interagency Fire Center in in Boise, Idaho.

https://twitter.com/NIFC_Fire

Prescribed burn gets away in WA

‘Another escaped prescribed burn turned into a biodiversity destroying and animal killing inferno. You can see in this area not only complete crown scorch but some completely bare areas. Many of the trees will not have survived, or will die in the coming hot weather. As for the smaller plants and animals, they are toast. If any animals do escape a burn like this, their food source and cover from predators is no longer there, so there is a high chance of mortality as they will be forced into the territories of other animals or be vulnerable to starvation and predation from foxes and cats. It’s time we had a proper review of our current approaches to prescribed burning which is having a profound impact on biodiversity while making our landscape more flammable and increasing the risk of wildfires, including through escaped prescribed burns like this one’.

Source: Fire and Biodiversity WA (FaBWA)

https://www.facebook.com/groups/580962519138149/


Fire News update, #1 December 1, 2022

Current fires

Fire season outlook

The Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) released its seasonal bushfire outlook for the 2022 summer on Tuesday, which predicted an above-normal fire risk for central western and southern Western Australia, Central Australia, southern Queensland and inland NSW.

The higher risk is due to flourishing vegetation after recent rains, which mean increased fuel loads.

In some good news, wetter areas across Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT are expected to have below-normal fire risk at the start of summer, thanks to recent heavy rainfall or flooding and reduced vegetation following the 2019-20 bushfire seasonStory hereThe AFAC report can be found here.

Climate change and fires

State of the Climate report 2022

Produced by The Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, the most recent SoC report has been released. It contains significant data relating to water in the landscape and fire risk:

Australia’s climate has warmed by an average of 1.47 ± 0.24 °C since national records began in 1910.

There has been a decline of around 15 per cent in April to October rainfall in the southwest of Australia since 1970. Across the same region, May to July rainfall has seen the largest decrease, by around 19 per cent since 1970.

In the south-east of Australia, there has been a decrease of around 10 per cent in April to October rainfall since the late 1990s. 

There has been a decrease in streamflow at most gauges across Australia since 1975.

Rainfall and streamflow have increased across parts of northern Australia since the 1970s.

You can read the report here.

‘Terrible for the climate’: Victoria’s native logging emissions equivalent to 700,000 cars

Native forest logging in Victoria produces about 3 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year, equivalent to the pollution from 700,000 medium-sized cars or double the state’s domestic aviation sector, research shows.

For the first time, Victoria’s native logging emissions have been calculated and made public.

Carbon emissions produced from logging have long been unclear because they are not separated in official figures from the carbon dioxide absorbed by forests and forestry plantations.

Article from The Age available here.

Many forests will become highly flammable for at least 30 extra days per year unless we cut emissions

Without strong climate action, forests on every continent will be highly flammable for at least 30 extra days per year by the end of the century – and this fire threat is far greater for some forests including the Amazon.

‘Our results show that forest fire becomes much more likely above a certain threshold of vapour pressure deficit in many regions. This threshold depends on the type of forest.

Alarmingly, climate change is increasing the number of days the planet passes these crucial thresholds. But by urgently bringing global emissions down, we can minimise the number of extra wildfire days’.

Story from The Conversation available here.

First Nations and fire

There has been a lot of recent debate about how and where cultural burning should be used in the landscape. For instance University of Melbourne's associate professor of geography, earth and atmospheric sciences and research Michael-Shawn Fletcher has published extensively in recent months.

He says "If you take away frequent fire, which promotes grasses, you start to get an increase in shrubs and trees such as eucalyptus," and that techniques implemented by First Nations people should be used in caring for country.

Check here for recent work by Michael and others called 'The Fiery Curse of Conservation', which says 'Land-use legislation has driven catastrophic bushfires in southeast Australia. Now is the time for Aboriginal people with the knowledge and desire to return their Country to health'.

Centre of Excellence for Indigenous and Environmental Histories and Futures established

Around 30 institutions are participating in a new Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Indigenous and Environmental Histories and Futures (CIEHF) to be headquartered at James Cook University (JCU) that aims to 'bring Indigenous and environmental histories to the forefront of land and sea management'.

“The recent Australian State of the Environment Report paints a grim picture of how climate change, land-clearing, and habitat modification are impacting the Australian environment.

“But conventional approaches to land and sea management frequently fail to incorporate or value Indigenous histories and knowledges, leading to poorer outcomes for Country.

“We simply can’t plan for the future without understanding both the long and short-term interactions of people, climate, lands, and seas."

Further information.

Fire and land management

The endless debate about the role of prescribed fire continues as it has for many years, often descending into a variation of the culture wars. Some recent pieces:

Australian Rural and Regional News bushfire page

If you are interested in the ongoing debate on fire, fuel reduction and land management, the fire page on ARRN (Australian Rural and Regional News) is worth checking. It encourages authors from various perspectives, then allows debate.

My recent piece on my changing approach to fire is available on the ARNN page here.

Effective fire management critical to health and survival of Australian forests

‘Recent reporting about the risks of conducting prescribed burning in the ACT's forests fails to recognise the critical role fire plays in maintaining the health of Australian forest ecosystems and ignores the lived history of bushfires in the ACT. Fire has always been part of the Australian landscape. Therefore, it makes no sense to try to keep it out of forests for 40 to 50 years, as suggested by Professor David Lindenmayer.’ Canberra Times, author Tony Bartlett. Tony argues that ‘Nurturing effective partnerships with Aboriginal people needs to be a key part of our fire strategy’.

Story from The Canberra Times available here.

Fire and logging debate

Professor David Lindenmayer is widely regarded as one of the world's leading forest and woodland ecologists and conservation biologists. He has written extensively on the links between fire and logging.

Research following the 2009 Black Saturday fires showed that approximately 10 years after logging there was a seven times increase in the risk of high-severity fire. This sharply elevated risk lasts for around 30 years (that is, until the forest is about 40 years old). It then declines. The lowest risk is for forests 100 or more years old. That is, old forests burn at significantly lower severity than young forests.

Story from The Age available here.

Fire culture – issues that matter to fire fighters

Smoke pollution has become a new public health threat.

Persistent smoke pollution has become a new public health threat, with wide-ranging impacts to our minds and bodies. Tiny soot particles are capable of breaching the barriers of the lungs and skin, and can cause wide-ranging damage. “Air pollution that comes from wildfires affects every organ in our body,” says Aaron Bernstein, who leads the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment. Here’s an overview of the concerning health effects researchers have uncovered so far.

Story from Outside Online.

On the fireline, emotional trauma is a hidden threat

As wildfires worsen, local, state and federal governments need to take measures to lessen the enormous and growing strain on wildland firefighters. Agencies should not only hire more firefighters but increase their access to therapy and other mental health resources. As more and more of us depend on the hard work firefighters do, we owe it to them to become better advocates for their safety and survival. That means protecting their mental health.

Story from High Country News available here.

Fire and community resilience

Our emergency response system is being overwhelmed.

As noted recently by the Climate Council and Emergency Leaders for Climate Action, climate change is driving a new era of ‘unnatural disasters’ – and as a country we are not prepared to cope with more frequent disasters. This year, we have seen how consecutive, record-breaking events can overwhelm emergency services and damage affected communities ability to rebuild.

Our emergency response system is being overwhelmed. Our emergency services were established in a time before the effects of climate change were being widely felt. Some ideas on how to respond available here.

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CFA brigades and SES Units show climate leadership

Most firefighters know that climate change is leading to longer and more intense fire seasons. This is changing how we fight fires. It highlights the fact that, as a local and global community, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a matter of urgency.

Many local brigades are also doing their bit to reduce emissions. Installing renewable power and storage can also build the resilience of local brigades when fire threatens town electricity supplies. Here are a few stories from around Victoria, compiled by the Australian Firefighters climate alliance.

Fire and biodiversity

Climate change and the Victorian Alps – fire forum:

If you’re paying attention to what is happening in the mountains, it can be depressing. Some of the obvious impacts of climate change include more intense fires and longer fire seasons, which are leading to loss of snow gum woodlands and alpine ash, and dieback in the snow gums, which is caused by a beetle.

In order to address some of these issues, Friends of the Earth and Upper Ovens Valley Landcare Group teamed up to host a forum called ‘Climate change and the Victorian Alps: preparing for the fires of the future’.

You can read a summary of the presentations here. And a video of the presentations can be found here.

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A key speaker, Dr Philip Zylstra, Adjunct Associate Professor, at Curtin University stressed that burning forests to reduce the fire risk actually increases it. Vast areas of the Alps have been burnt multiple times, which has created massive areas of highly flammable regrowth.

Instead of doing fuel reduction burning at a landscape level, Phil recommends we limit this to much smaller areas close to homes and other human infrastructure. Intense fuel reduction burning in these zones has been shown to slightly reduce risk to human assets. We should leave the broader forested landscape of the mountains to grow older and hence move into a less flammable phase.

For this to happen, we need to reduce fire in the vegetation communities of the mountains.

Podcasts

Background information