Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

The Black Saturday dragon

By Max Rheese - posted Monday, 8 February 2010

Victoria faces another February with many of the same underlying bleak fire tragedy conditions faced on Black Saturday: drought, hotter average temperatures and a further build-up of forest fuels from an unchanged prescribed-burning target.

Fire will be inevitable; the only possible variable will be if we experience a severe weather event such as the one that occurred on February 7 last year.

Much has happened on the fire suppression front, with the arrival of an expensive air tanker, improved communications, new command structures, new fire tankers and upgraded Incident Control Centres.


Firebreaks have been constructed for some communities and Neighbourhood Safer Places for some others.

Planning for combating fires has been detailed and intense. Information and warnings for the community are plentiful, if not entirely understood.

Most of this action is necessary, but falls into the category of suppression and safety after fires are already raging.

Where we appear to have not yet learned the lessons of numerous and recurring bushfire tragedies is in the application of the axiom, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The single greatest effect we as a community can have on the immutable fire triangle of temperature, ignition and fuel is the management of bushfire fuel. Yet the prescribed burn target for public land managers, as outlined in the government's budget papers, remains at 130,000ha a year, unchanged for the past five years.

This is despite a recommendation tabled in June 2008, seven months before Black Saturday, by a well-regarded government-led parliamentary inquiry into bushfires, for a trebling of prescribed burning to 385,000ha.


Adoption of this target would see 95 per cent of public land untouched by prescribed burning in any one year. The all-party inquiry took the advice given in evidence by departmental officers responsible for fire management that this was the level of management required to enable some hope of reasonable bushfire control in Victoria's highly flammable forests.

Nobody is under the illusion that increasing the amount of prescribed burning will prevent bushfires, but a substantial and growing volume of research shows unequivocally that reducing the fuel available by cool burning in autumn or spring reduces the speed and intensity of inevitable fires, thereby enabling control.

This is the best management tool we can give land managers if we wish to protect our precious biodiversity and water yield in all catchments from enormous damage by intense conflagrations such as Black Saturday.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

First published in The Australian February 5, 2010.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

5 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Max Rheese is the Executive Director of the Australian Environment Foundation.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Max Rheese

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 5 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy