Much new work is being produced on the symbioticrelationship between fire and the Australian flora. Thereproductive cycle of many eucalypts and wattles isdependent on fire. A regenerative force as well as adestructive one, bushfire has contributed to a massiveproliferation of eucalypt species which dominate theAustralian landscape.The arrival of homo sapiens and the development of ‘firestick farming’ deepened this relationship and increasedthe frequency of fire. Since European settlement fireshave become less frequent but far more damaging. Withoutthe regular patchwork burning of the Aborigines fuel loadswere allowed to accumulate leading to major wild fires.Black Fridayon January 13 1939 was to Australianenvironmental history what the bombing of Darwin in thesecond world war was to our political history.‘Seventy one lives were lost, millions of acres offorest were destroyed. The speed of the fires wasappalling. Such was the force of the wind thathundreds of trees of great size were blown clear ofthe earth, tons of soil still adhering to theirroots; for mile upon mile the former forestmonarchs were laid in confusion, burnt, torn fromthe earth, and piled one upon the other as matchesstrewn by a giant hand.’ABC Press KitPage 2
Royal Commissioner, Judge Leonard Stretton.In the wake of these devastating fires ‘fuel reductionburns’ were adopted throughout Australia as the primarytool for fire protection. But it wasn’t uniformlypracticed in all states. On Tuesday the 7th February 1967a horrific fire incinerated suburbs in Hobart, Tasmania.1,300 houses were destroyed and 62 people died. Sixteen years later the fire protection system was inbetter shape than ever but the drought, the heat and thewind created perfect conditions for a fire. On February16th, 1983 Ash Wednesdayclaimed 71 lives, destroyed some2,300 houses and killed 350,000 livestock. The bestefforts of 558 fire brigades, 21,000 fire-fighters and 28aircraft couldn’t contain the destruction. The North East FiresAs 2002 came to a close large areas of south eastAustralia had been declared drought affected. Waterstorages were at record lows and the expectation of ‘theworst bushfire season in twenty years’ had created anatmosphere of urgent activity.As early as November large fires were burning in northernNew South Wales and volunteers were called in from as faraway as Victoria. Later in the month fires broke out inthe hills around Sydney and heavy smoke drifted over thecity. After the loss of a number of houses a weatherchange brought the fires under controlIn early January of 2003 over a hundred lightening strikesin the alpine areas of Victoria and New South Walesignited a string of fires. Most of these were extinguishedhowever several in difficult terrain got too large to becontained. Within a few days more than fifteen thousandhectares of forest was destroyed.
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- Jeff Miller