Christine Finlay has been sounding the alarm on bushfires in Australia for more than a decade after tracking the relationship between reduced cool burning and the frequency of firestorms.
And the Queensland-based fire researcher, who charted a century of archival bushfire records for her Ph.D., has long been screaming danger.
Finlay’s thesis examined problem bushfires between 1881 and 1981. What she found after plotting the historical data on a graph was that there was a marked increase in the size and frequency of fires after 1919.
This was when bushfire-reduction operations increasingly moved away from traditional indigenous practices such as low-intensity cool burning.
Finlay says this detailed correlation between the accumulation of catastrophic fuel loads and the frequency of extreme bushfires made it possible to forecast the dramatic increase in firestorms we have seen in the 21st century.
“For years, I energetically sent this predictive model to government agencies, in particular, bushfire services, the media, coronial and parliamentary inquiries and so on,” she says. “Horribly ignored, it proved horribly accurate.”
Finlay has the support of forester Vic Jurskis, who has written a book on fire stick ecology and how indigenous Australians managed the landscape with fire.
In an open letter to the Prime Minister, premiers, chief ministers and opposition leaders in November, Jurskis said this season’s bushfire situation was neither unprecedented nor unexpected.
“This latest holocaust is a direct consequence of unprecedented accumulation of 3D continuous fuels as a result of green influence on politics,” Jurskis says. “It’s all about fuel, not climate.”
Half a century ago, Athol Hodgson, who later became chief fire officer of Victoria, explained the simple physics: doubling the available fuel usually doubles the rate of spread of the fire and increases its intensity fourfold.
Jurskis says control burning over large areas cheaply and effectively reduces the incidence of high-intensity wildfires and minimizes damage.
When this year’s fire season finally ends, Finlay’s research and Jurskis’s theories no doubt will be offered to a federal government review already proposed by Scott Morrison.
All sides will have a big stake in any investigation: fire command, volunteer services, state government agencies and anyone who lives near the bush.
Green groups are ready to battle demands that national parks be opened up to logging to reduce fuel loads. Politically, the Greens insist their environment policies adopted in November 2017 do not prohibit cool burns.
Their policy puts climate change front and center but says “scientifically based, ecologically appropriate use of fire is a important means to protect biodiversity and manage habitat effectively.”
The policy calls for “an effective and sustainable strategy for fuel-reduction management that will protect biodiversity and moderate the effects of wildfire for the protection of people and assets, developed in consultation with experts, custodians, and land managers.”
The Greens have called on the Prime Minister to immediately declare a royal commission into the bushfire crisis.
Read more at The Au$tralian
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