Bushfires and Climate Change

by Roger Underwood AM, Chairman of the Bushfire Front1

In a recent article in The West Australian newspaper, Murdoch University academic Dr Jatin Kala made the unequivocal statement that: “global warming caused by CO2 will cause extreme … bushfires.” A similar assertion was made by Queensland Premier Palaszczhuk in the wake of recent destructive fires in Queensland.

However, temperature is only one of the factors that influences bushfire behaviour, and its influence is negligible compared to that of wind strength and fuel dryness and quantity.

No firefighter fears a bushfire on a hot day. Even on a day of 40 degrees, a bushfire burning under light winds in light fuels (for example, bushland subject to fuel reduction burning less than 2-3 years ago) is relatively easy to control. On the other hand, even on a day of relatively mild temperature, a bushfire burning in heavy fuels under gale-force winds will be almost impossible to control.

We also know that taking steps to minimise CO2 emissions, however effective this might be in reducing global warming in future decades, will not make an iota of difference to the bushfire threat at our door right now. We need to tackle the main cause of extreme bushfire behaviour in a practical and economical manner, using well-proven methods, and starting now. Shutting down the Australian coal industry, for example, will do nothing to lessen the current bushfire threat across most of southern and eastern Australia.

The key to effective bushfire management in bushland is maintaining fuel levels below the level at which fires become uncontrollable. This is achieved most economically and with greatest ecological benefit by regular application of mild-intensity prescribed burns.

In bushfire-vulnerable residential areas, a huge effort is needed to make homes more bushfire-resilient and to better manage bushfire fuels in parks and gardens. Most residential areas in bushfire-prone regions today are hopelessly ill-prepared for fire. Little wonder that they are undefendable when struck by a fire burning out of equally unprepared bushland. None of this lack of preparedness and mitigation is the fault of “global warming”.

Fuel reduction is not the solution in itself, but it is the fundamental building block of a cost/effective system for minimising bushfire damage in today’s environment, let alone in any future climate scenario.

Roger Underwood is the Saltbush Club’s bushfire watcher.
[1] Web site: https://www.bushfirefront.org.au/

5 thoughts on “Bushfires and Climate Change”

  1. Agree with a well written article Roger. I have been the victim of a severe bushfire which burnt my semi-rural place to the ground but sensible sprinklers, lawn surrounding the house & a wife that wet down the house before firies took over saved the house.( I was 1100km away at work)
    Unfortunately there is another aspect particularly in populated areas – arsonists who are responsible for a large percentage of fires.

  2. Australia and the environment would benefit by converting the excess vegetation into charcoal that can be used in smelting ores and manufacturing the pure silicon for the electronics sector. Activated charcoal is used for filters and medicinal purposes. The gases produced during charcoal manufacture can be used as fuel. Carbon is a valuable soil additive that holds minerals for plants. Sawmills were previously powered by wood gas.

    The local fire brigades should liaise with the timber industry and landowners before burning-off resources. Identify valuable trees and sell the timber. Harvest trees’ lower branches.
    For example, Allocasuarina Luehmani, ‘Buloke’, has recently been identified as the world’s hardest timber – sell this stuff for musical instruments. Some timber types are worth thousands of dollars per kilo (E.g. Ebony). Of course the government regulators would need to free this category of collected timber through some type of certification to prevent over-exploitation.

  3. Contrary to what most people believe, the Aboriginals maintained the country by regularly removing trees from open grasslands and tinder from within animal’s forest habitat.
    The Greens, in their ignorance, have allowed this orderly maintenance of the country to become overgrown like a neglected weedy garden.
    Please watch this interview with Bill Gammage as to how the original Aboriginals managed the land. We could learn much.
    Also further info

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