Otway Ranges Environment Network



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SIMON BIRRELL: Alarmist policies not helping

Published: September 8th, 2009
Geelong Advertister


It is disappointing the Victorian Liberal Party has engaged in scaremongering politics over the wildfire threat in the Otways.  Emotive comments from the Liberal Leader Ted Baillieu (7/8/09), the Victorian Lands Alliance (20/8/09) and the Grovedale Liberals (26/8/09) calling for more and immediate fuel reduction burns are not helping the community prepare for the next wildfire season.

It is obvious those calling for ‘immediate’ fuel reduction burns have not been to the Otways recently. It has been raining. The ground is saturated. Creeks and rivers are flowing. Geelong’s dams are slowing filling. Let’s hope the rains continue.

When it’s wet in the Otways, a flame thrower or napalm dropped from a helicopter won’t start a fire.  The Otways has the highest rainfall in Victoria; for most of the forest it is inherently difficult to start a fire for much of the year.  Fuel reduction burning can only take place in Autumn, on days judged safe.  But then only if the landscape has dried out enough. A large proportion of the Otways is wet and damp forests that can remain difficult, if not impossible, to burn all year if there is a mildly wet summer.

If it continues to rain, will the Liberal opposition continue to attack the Brumby Government for failing to ‘immediately’ conduct fuel reduction burns in wet soggy Otway forest?

Those claiming not enough fuel reduction burning is being undertaken should drive along the Sabine Benwerrin Road behind Lorne. They will see part of the 5000ha that was fuel reduction burnt in Autumn by the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) in difficult terrain (to their credit).

Both the Liberal leader and the Victorian Lands Alliance are being alarmist in talking up so-called ‘heavy fuel loads’.  It has been claimed that one hectare of bush accumulates one tonne of fuel every year in the Otways. The simplistic proposition has been made that in 20 years without a fire, 20 tonnes of fuel will accumulate.

What if this alarmist concept was applied to areas where Cool Temperate Rainforest grows? Researchers have shown wildfires have not entered some Otway rainforest areas for up to 30,000 years.  According to the alarmist ‘heavy fuel load’ theory these areas must now have a ground energy load equivalent to a Saudi Arabian oil field!
What’s the reality?  In the absence of fire, ground fuel levels reach an equilibrium over time. Dead organic flammable material naturally decays, assisted by bacteria and fungi, and recycles back into soil.  At the moment ground fuel loads will be naturally reducing in the Otways as a result of recent rains speeding up decay.  Depending on the vegetation and weather, it can take just a few years for forest ground fuel levels to reach an equilibrium following fire.

So the issue is the strategic location not the quantity of fuel reduction burns. DSE has already reduced fuel loads with strategically located fuel reduction burns to help protect settlements in the Otways.  As raised by the CFA recently, work is also needed to make the Great Ocean Road safer. 

It is totally irresponsible to claim more fuel reduction burns will protect Otway communities from an inferno like that experienced on Black Saturday. The Royal Commission interim report has already recommended early evacuation for people living or holidaying in the bush as the safest option. When it comes to bushfires, community safety and education must be put ahead of unhelpful alarmist politics.

See information about Otways fire suppression strategies used by DSE.

See information about the Otways fire scaremongering camapign.



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