By Vinay Kolhatkar
I still remember 1994. My wife and I drove through the Royal National Park in Sydney’s south, several weeks after bushfires (or wildfires as they are known in the U.S.) had ravaged its heritage-listed insides. The 16,000 hectare park, the second oldest in the world, boasts of coastal walks, uniquely Australian flora and fauna, cycling tracks, bushwalks, and even seasonal whale watching. We had enjoyed its offerings often enough.
But, on this drive, all we could see was masses of tree trunks in long eerie lines, black as coal. Occasionally, there were a few worn, twiggy branches—mostly charred, but always without leafage. A force of nature, evocative of a Stephen King horror story, had blown off the entire canopy. For miles on end, we drove on and watched for a single green leaf, a fox, or even a wombat sighting … but all life had been erased from this pristine landscape.
The aftermath of a serious bushfire, up close, is chilling to the naked eye.
It befits us to ask—is a mega bushfire preventable?
To better understand this, I recall communicating with Roger Underwood, Chairman of the Bushfire Front, Inc., which advocates better management of fire, especially on forested lands, to reduce the impact and severity of bushfire damage.
I recall the sentiment Underwood expressed—that the science is simple enough that any schoolchild could understand it. So, are government officials dumber than a fifth-grader?
Here’s the gist what Mr. Underwood says:
That any fire requires three elements to get it started:
Once a fire ignites, it requires oxygen and fuel to continue burning. It’s neither possible nor desirable to remove oxygen from the air to prevent a fire starting. And the forests are the fuel. So what about ignition?
Lightning is one cause. But, as the politically left-leaning Sydney Morning Herald tells us:
There are, on average, 62,000 fires in Australia every year. Only a very small number strike far from populated areas and satellite studies tell us that lightning is responsible for only 13 percent. Not so the current fires threatening to engulf Queensland and NSW. There were no lightning strikes on most of the days when the fires first started in September . Although there have been since, these fires—joining up to create a new form of mega-fire—are almost all man-made.
A 2015 satellite analysis of 113,000 fires from 1997-2009 confirmed what we had known for some time—40 percent of fires are deliberately lit, another 47 percent accidental. This generally matches previous data published a decade earlier that about half of all fires were suspected or deliberate arson, and 37 percent accidental. Combined, they reach the same conclusion: 87 percent are man-made.
Many of the arsonists and the reckless are children. Yet, many are adults aged between 30 and 60, predominantly male.
It’s impossible to reduce the number of sociopaths in a society to absolute zero. And even one sociopath can ignite several fires in proximate locations that can join up into a single crown fire.
How? Because, the fuel—the forest canopy, runs for miles as a single, unbroken circuit.
And it is governments who are, by stealth, opposing the significant breaking of these fire circuits.
The fuel loads pile up waiting for a hot summer ignition. This Australian fire season was preceded by years of drought: the fuel was plenty, it was dry, it was unbroken—making the disaster inevitable—the arsonist’s power had been multiplied tenfold by those entrusted to protect us.
In 2017, Newsweek admitted that ISIS celebrated the wildfires in California, and that ISIS “supporters suggested laying gasoline-filled bottles in the woods to inflict further damage” in their newsletter. Why are we making it easier for terrorists to create inextinguishable fires?
As Underwood not so gently reminds us:
Plane-load after plane-load of water or retardant powder is dropped onto raging fires, making not one iota of difference. Water bombers do have a tactical role to play in bushfire control: they can “hold” a small fire under relatively mild conditions until firefighters arrive on the ground, or they can saturate a burning house. But they do not and they cannot put out a fierce forest fire, or even hinder its progress.
Water bombing on forests does make for good television clips, however. But those who entrust their safety to our high authorities in Canberra would do well to recall Canberra 2003.
The state-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation admitted:
On January 18, 2003, four bushfires that had been burning in [the] mountains for more than a week combined and roared into Canberra’s south-western suburbs.
It was a massive bushfire that created its own weather, with cyclone-strength winds and fire tornados. In every sense, a firestorm. When the fires hit the suburbs, they took the public—and the authorities—almost entirely by surprise. Four residents died in a hopeless battle to protect their homes or escape the flames.
Hundreds more people were injured—some critically. They suffered horrendous burns, smoke inhalation, broken limbs, and exhaustion.
There had been no official order to evacuate their homes.
It was, in essence, every man and woman for themselves.
All it took was … the winds shifted, suddenly, and fires burning in the mountains cascaded down at ferocious speed into the suburbs at the base. In the next ten hours, four people died, over 490 were injured, and 470 homes were destroyed or severely damaged.
People in high bushfire-risk areas say that they would simply evacuate when warned, and collect insurance, if necessary, on a burned-down house. No wonder Roger Underwood despairs upon hearing such sentiments:
First, evacuation is inherently dangerous, especially when it is last-minute and in the face of an intense, fast-moving fire. Roads will be blocked by fallen trees and powerlines; vehicles trying to get out will encounter fire appliances and emergency vehicles trying to get in. Roads in bushfire-prone areas tend to be narrow and lined with dense, flammable bush. A single accident or break-down leads to traffic gridlock.
People dying in cars while attempting to evacuate is a feature of most Australian bushfire disasters.
A second fallacy is that post-fire life will be a simple matter of collecting the insurance and rebuilding the house. However, insurance companies are not always easy to deal with. For example, a friend of mine lost his beloved shed and workshop in a bushfire and his insurance company demanded he produce receipts for each lost tool and item of equipment, down to the merest screwdriver, before they would pay up. I have also heard of insurance companies declining to reinsure properties in high-risk bushfire areas, or substantially upping the premiums the second time around.
And we have not even considered items of sentimental value such as old family photos, and that building permits, required again, may not be forthcoming, from the very authorities whose negligence of scientific facts made the bushfire burn your home in the first place.
The Glaringly Obvious Solution
After every major bushfire, there are inquiries, funded by the State. And the conclusions are exactly the same.
CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) is Australia’s national, state-owned science agency. In 2015, CSIRO bushfire scientist David Packham had warned that “forest fuel levels [in the state of Victoria] had climbed to their most dangerous level in thousands of years,” a situation he attributed to “misguided green ideology” and which presented “an increasing threat to human life, water supplies, property and the forest environment.” Packham recommended the tripling of the fuel-reduction burning target. But in fact, even the minimum target agreed by both major political parties was not met, only a quarter of it was done (less than a tenth of what was actually required).
This Royal Commission inquiry was held after the “Black Saturday” fires in Victoria on February 7, 2009, killed 173 people, hospitalized over 800 others, destroyed 2133 houses and burnt hundreds of thousands of hectares.
Said Underwood of the alarming parallel with today’s situation:
NSW has been in the grip of a terrible drought for years. On top of this the amount of fuel reduction burning in national parks and forests in NSW and Victoria has significantly declined and the majority of their forests are long-unburnt and carrying massive fuel loads. The combination of drought and heavy fuels has been at the root of every major bushfire crisis in the history of Australia.
And that …
The idea that fuel reduction burning destroys the ecosystem has never been demonstrated. The Australian bush has been shaped and adapted to fire for around 60,000 years and an occasional light, creeping fire has as much impact on the bush as do the ocean tides on seaweeds and fish.
Listen to Roger Underwood, Prime Minister.
As Viv Forbes, a pastoralist, adds:
Graziers need to protect herds and flocks, homesteads, haystacks, yards, fences and neighbours, as well as maintain grasslands by killing woody weeds and encouraging new grass. So their fire management was refined. They soon learned to pick the right season, day, time of day, place, wind and weather before lighting a fire.
Today we have replaced decentralised fire management with government-nurtured firestorms. First governments created fire hazards called national parks, where fire sticks, matches, graziers and foresters were locked out and access roads were abandoned or padlocked. And green-loving urbanites built houses beside them and planted trees in their yards. The open forests and grasslands were invaded by eucalypt regrowth, woody weeds, tangled undergrowth, dry grass, logs, dead leaves, twigs, bark and litter — all perfect fuel for a wildfire holocaust.
These tinderboxes of forest fuel became magnets for arsonists, or were lit by windblown embers or lightning. With high winds, high temperatures and heavy fuel loads some fires will race through the treetops of oil-rich eucalypt forests.
Meanwhile, outspoken researcher Jennifer Marohasy set the temperature record straight:
The word unprecedented is applied to almost every bad thing that happens at the moment, as though particular events could not have been predicted, and have never happened before at such a scale or intensity. This is creating so much anxiety, because it follows logically that we are living in uncertain time: that there really is a climate emergency.
The historical evidence, however, indicates fires have burnt very large areas before, and it has been hotter.
Why Are the Authorities Derelict?
One government backbencher, MP Craig Kelly, could take it no more. On January 6, he appeared on Great Britain First, and spoke truth to power, pointing the finger at the real villain: the buildup of record fuel loads and arson, and later calling his critics on Facebook “lefty trolls” who were “brainwashed.” Media host Piers Morgan blasted Kelly’s candor as “absolutely disgraceful.” British meteorologist Laura Tobin awarded Kelly a medal of valor … well, she called him a “climate denier,” which amounts to the same thing.
Soon after, even many conservative MPs quickly distanced themselves from Mr. Kelly.
What is at work here is that the climate racket hasn’t just taken over the media. Heads of state, including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and U.S. President Donald Trump, are so wary of the racket’s power over the citizenry, that hardly anyone confronts it head-on.
Climate racketeers saw in the latest bushfire crisis of lost firefighter and civilian lives, plus the ravaged wildlife, forests, and property, an opportunity to score points for “climate change.” They blamed Scott Morrison for not doing enough; Australia is the only country relying on carryover credits to meet its Paris 2030 target.
Which brings us to a most unfortunate conclusion:
That we cannot trust our elected officials to use well-known science to reduce the risk of wildfires either by giving up their monopoly authority over all “managed fuel reduction and back burning,” or by privatizing forest management, or otherwise by managing the fuel load down themselves.
Because they are afraid of the green lobby’s effect on votes. This fear doesn’t make moral, or even political sense, as was argued in the Open Letter to Scott Morrison.
It’s true that fuel reduction is a state, not federal, responsibility. But that fact simply needs to be restated alongside the truth that Craig Kelly voiced.
Instead, Scott Morrison and his deputy, Josh Frydenberg, first trembled, then capitulated, in the face of the media onslaught. Frydenberg appeased the climate lobby by conceding that “climate change” was causing hotter, drier summers, implicitly buying into a significant human cause of the planet’s surface temperatures. Then Morrison caved in by promising to do “more” to combat “climate,” splitting his party with his weasel words in the process.
Mr. Morrison, would you rather the wrath of the media, or the “wrath of Nature” upon the people? Are you willing to let volunteer firefighters die and have some civilians in the bush ruined financially, because you can’t muster the courage to confront the anti-science greens?
If the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the Brexit “surprise” taught us anything, it’s this:
The age where mainstream media manufactured public consent, has gone. Perhaps that insight hasn’t dawned on the Australian Prime Minister yet.
And take a look at Craig Kelly’s rising popularity, Mr. Morrison. It may help you to grow a pair.