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.
 Web site: https://www.bushfirefront.org.au/