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Global warming. What effect might it have upon bushfires?

By John Cribbes - posted Wednesday, 24 October 2007

As officialdom in Victoria, supported by the green NGO movement, prepares to excuse their lack of action in bushfire preparedness, damage mitigation and fire hazard reduction , the threat of Global Warming rears its head in relationship to the frequency and effect that it will have upon bushfires.

There are probably no more than two ways in which this effect might happen.

First, there might be an increase in the number of days when the conditions for fire are at their zenith, that is, where there is a strong northerly wind with very low humidity.


Next, there may be an increase in the frequency of dry lightning storms. It is possible to have more than a hundred lightning strikes in a single thunderstorm that actually ignites the forest floor.

Therefore, it must be concluded that, in a hot spell - spring, summer or autumn - if the conditions occur over which homo sapiens have no control, it could reasonably be expected that there would be an increase in the number of bushfires.

But the "number of fires" is not the critical question. Of far more importance is fire size and intensity. These factors are not greatly influenced by temperature. Rather the crucial factor is fuel and how much of it is available to burn.

Over much of the bushland in Victoria there has been no effort to reduce fuel levels by any means for the past twenty-five years as a result of pressure from urban green groups, academics and gutless leadership from the government. We can therefore expect more of the same. Large uncontrollable fires with erosion and hydrophobic forest floors. Forests destroyed, mudslides and damaging floods. Maybe firefighters killed.

At least initially, over the two and a half million hectares that have been so brutally incinerated in the past five years, the damage will not be of a similar dimension because the regrowth has not had the opportunity to die off and litter the forest floor.

The conundrum for our Victorian community is, do we reinstate the fuel reduction measures that worked so successfully from 1944 to 1983 or do we try a new approach? Instead of the fuel reduction burning that causes so much distress to those with bronchial troubles or to those pop-ecologists who do not understand the role of fire in Australian eucalypt forests, would it be possible to use mechanical means of keeping the forest floor clear of the detritus that so easily ignites?


Some experts refer to  the European model of forest management where mechanical methods and collection of fuel by peasants keep the forest floor clear of leaf litter, and the resulting material is transformed into bio fuel. Would such a method work in our dense, remote eucalypt forests? On our steep slopes? And what other damage would be done by machines in the fuel collection? In my opinion the European model is completely inappropriate for Australia.

As well as fuel we must consider the need for thinning if the climate is going to get warmer and drier. Given the neglect of twenty-five years where trees, now at least twenty-five years old, are growing within a few centimetres of each other, many of them will have to be removed so those that are left have a chance to grow. Many areas of East Gippsland Shire show the result of a lack of forest management. Along the Princes Highway between Lakes Entrance and Genoa there are millions of trees growing too close together. There is a pressing need here for a machine to enter the forest, thin out the dense regrowth trees and recycle the resulting timber to enable a better forest to grow.

Alfred Howitt, a leading Victorian explorer, in his 1890 address to The Royal Society of Victoria entitled "The Eucalypts of Victoria. Influence of settlement on the eucalypt forests" wrote about the open grassy plains that were the status quo in Gippsland until settlement.

Of the Snowy River he wrote: "The Valley of the Snowy River, when the early settlers came down from Maneroo [Monaro] to occupy it  …. Was very open and free from forests.  … clothed with grass, and with but a few large scattered trees of E. hemiphloia.  … The immediate valley was a series of grassy alluvial flats …"

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About the Author

John Cribbes is a retired, 68 year old public service accountant with some commercial accountancy skills. Trained at one time as a Business Analyst by Dun & Bradstreet, he also has analytical skills. He is very comfortable with extracting information from people who have qualifications that authenticate their conclusions. This has enabled him to track down and examine various documents that are relevant in the current debate. His attitude to the environment is simple. Whatever man does to alter his environment, if nature does not like it, the venture will fail. It is no good hugging trees and worshipping at that high altar when the basic principle of fire in forest management is ignored or suppressed. He believes that without human intervention and science based management it is obvious that Australian forests are in decline.

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