19 Jul 2009, 6:36pm
Forestry education The 2009 Fire Season
by admin

Dangerous Ecobabble — A Case In Point

No sooner did we post about ecobabble from the fire community [here] than heads-up readers sent us a clipping from the Redding Record Searchlight in which “fire ecologists” make some unsubstantiated and erroneous ecobabble claims:

Ecologists decry efforts to douse fire

By Ryan Sabalow , Redding Record Searchlight, July 19, 2009 [here]

Two environmentalists who study fire ecology say community leaders shouldn’t be applauding U.S. Forest Service firefighters’ quick work to contain the isolated Backbone Fire, no matter how much smoke was kept out of the air.

“Smoke is an unpleasant, but unavoidable, fact of natural life,” said Timothy Ingalsbee, the executive director of the Eugene, Ore.-based Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology. “There’s no smokeless fire. This is California fire country. There’s no way around it.”

Chad Hanson, director of the Cedar Ridge-based John Muir Project, agreed, saying that there’s no scientific evidence showing wildfire smoke causes long-term damage to residents’ respiratory systems.

But there is universal agreement among ecologists that wildfires — even the most high-intensity blazes — are good for a forest, he said. …

Universal agreement? That’s something even grander than a consensus. But is it true? Of course not, not even close.

High intensity fires kill all the trees and convert forests to brush. That’s not “good” for forests. Count me as outside the “universal agreement” (which doesn’t exist in the real world).

The statement is bogus on it’s face, just like the statement that “there’s no scientific evidence showing wildfire smoke causes long-term damage to residents’ respiratory systems.”

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Wildfire — Beneficial or Damaging?

The US Forest Service is incinerating millions of acres this year with dozens of wildfires they Let Burn under the rubric of “fires used for resource benefit” (FUFRB’s), or as we called them, foofurbs. Foofurbs have replaced whoofoos (Wildland Fire Use fires or WFU’s) [here].

Background: the illegally constituted Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC) [here] is the Federal Advisory Committee that oversees firefighting on Federal land, including USFS, BLM, NPS, USFWS, and BIA. The WFLC seated radical enviro lobbyist groups such as the Wilderness Society, promulgated a “Black, Dead Forests Are Beautiful” campaign [here] and invented whoofoos [here] as a substitute for Let It Burn. After complaints were received, the WFLC went underground. They no longer post meeting notices or minutes [here] or even their membership list [here] (note that the names and dates are over a year out-of-date).

This year, in secret backroom meetings with radical enviro holocaust advocates, the WFLC dumped whoofoo and replaced it with foofurb. This is despite the push over the last two years to write WFU into over 30 National Forest Plans nationwide. Now the WFU language is defunct, and all the illegal altering of Forest Plans must happen again.

In the meantime, foofurbs have sprung up all over. The Southwest Region has already burned a half million acres this year in foofurbs. The Southern California, Alaska, Eastern Great Basin, and Rocky Mountain Regions all have foofurbs burning right now.

Interestingly, in none of these foofurb fires has the USFS specified exactly what the alleged benefits of “fires used for resource benefit” are. There have been no analyses made, no declarations, no public hearings, and most importantly, no Environmental Impact Statements produced.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is quite clear in stating that any major Federal action that will have significant effects and impacts on resources and the human environment requires an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prior to implementation of that action. Potential “significant effects” require an EIS whether or not those effects are characterized as detrimental or beneficial:

“Significantly” as used in NEPA requires considerations of both context and intensity:

(a) Context. This means that the significance of an action must be analyzed in several contexts such as society as a whole (human, national), the affected region, the affected interests, and the locality. Significance varies with the setting of the proposed action. For instance, in the case of a site-specific action, significance would usually depend upon the effects in the locale rather than in the world as a whole. Both short- and long-term effects are relevant.

(b) Intensity. This refers to the severity of impact. Responsible officials must bear in mind that more than one agency may make decisions about partial aspects of a major action. The following should be considered in evaluating intensity:

Impacts that may be both beneficial and adverse. A significant effect may exist even if the Federal agency believes that on balance the effect will be beneficial.

From Sec. 1508.27, the Environmental Quality Improvement Act of 1970, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4371 et seq.), sec. 309 of the Clean Air Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. 7609), and E.O. 11514 (Mar. 5, 1970, as amended by E.O. 11991, May 24, 1977). Source: 43 FR 56003, Nov. 29, 1978, unless otherwise noted.

When the USFS deliberately conducts foofurb fires, it does not matter what their excuse is. “Restore ecological function” or “rejuvenate wildlands” are largely pseudo-scientific BS, but they are also tacit admissions that the actions will have significant effect on the environment. Ergo, the USFS is in multiple violation of NEPA and they know it.

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Return Fire

A 5-part essay by Mike Dubrasich

No Forest Worries, Mate, Says the JSFP

The Joint Fire Science Program (JSFP) is a government bureaucracy dedicated to wildfire [here]. Fire is the be-all and end-all of their existence.

Now, I’m not saying that the JSFP is made up of bug-eyed arsonists, but fire is their bread and butter, the source and inspiration of their funding, their primary focus, and their conceit.

Forests are not their focus, although wildfires often burn forests. Fire is the consuming concern of the JSFP; forests are merely the backdrop — in their eyes piles of fuels ready to burn –- and in some ways justification for the existence of the JSFP and buttering their bread.

Because forests sometimes erupt into forest fires, which enflame the passion and conceit of the JSFP, and because the JSFP styles itself as a scientific institution, they occasionally foray into forest science. Sadly, those forays betray a profound ignorance of the subject. The JSFP knows next to nothing about forests, and indeed, next to nothing about why and how forests burn.

That ignorance is on display their web publication, Fire Science Brief, Issue 49, May 2009 [here]. In that issue the JSFP resurrects a two-year-old paper and badly fumbles the context and the findings.

The resurrected paper discussed in Fire Science Brief is from an actual forest science study, (Shatford J., D.E. Hibbs and K Puettmann. 2007. Conifer Regeneration Following Forest Fire in the Klamath-Siskiyous: How much, how soon? Journal of Forestry 105:139-146), but the JSFP discussion does not reprint the report. Instead, they misinterpret it out of context.

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29 Jun 2009, 10:02pm
Federal forest policy The 2009 Fire Season
by admin

Whoofoo Kaput?

The latest scuttlebutt from fire community insiders is that whoofoo is no more.

Orders have come down from on high forbidding the use of WFU, aka whoofoo, aka Wildland Fire Use.

The new terminology is “fires used for resource benefit,” or foofurb.

Evidently my invention of the term “whoofoo” got under their skin. After three years of my needling the National Interagency Fire Center with whoofoo, they decided to dumpsterize it.

Unfortunately, nobody told the 30 or so National Forests that wrote whoofoo (WFU) into their Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMP’s).

Granted, the secret conversion of LRMP language constituted Federal crimes in the first place. Altering any National Forest plan is supposed to require a NEPA process, but there were no (none, zero, zip) NEPA processes invoked when the LRMP’s were rewritten, clandestinely, in the dark of night, by gremlins, across the Nation.

Now, however, all those altered plans must be altered again because foofurb has replaced whoofoo in the parlance.

The Kaibab NF, home of the Warm Whoofoo, now has a foofurb going (the Ruby Foofurb) that has topped 4,600 acres. That’s just a midget compared to the 58,400 acre Warm Whoofoo, but it could be a record for foofurbs.

Foofurbs don’t really “benefit resources.” If they did, the USFS would be willing if not anxious to demonstrate such with normal NEPA exercises. But they know that the whole foofurb deal is a Big Lie and are desperately afraid of transparency of any kind. Can’t let the public in on what transpires on public lands.

It’s hush hush. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Just ignore the fire plume, the choking smoke, the forests burned black, the streams filled with poisonous ash and mudslides.

That’s just Smokey the Foofurb doing his thing. And before you know it, Smokey will be foofurbing your property with his handy aerial drip torches. It’s for your benefit. Be sure to thank him.

The Forestry Gap

Last April the USDA Forest Service, Fire and Aviation Management, issued a Briefing Paper entitled Large Fire Management in 2009. In that paper “the Agency” found that

* The risk of very large fires occurring, and the associated threats to life and property, are increasing at a phenomenal rate.

* One-quarter of one percent (0.25%) of the fires each year are the costliest in terms of consuming fire management resources and a large portion of the Forest Service suppression budget.

* The increase in the number of acres with hazardous fuels conditions far exceeds the acres being treated for fuels reduction.

* The Agency has worked with predictive services to identify forests that exhibit characteristics which make them likely to have these large “problem fires” in 2009.

* The forests chosen will “pave the way” in developing a system for how large-complex fires should be managed given the increasingly more complex fire environment of the 21st century.

* Fire suppression does not always provide for resource protection and safety.

What are we to make of these stunning findings?

First, it is admirable that the Agency now realizes that biomass fuels fires. It is also admirable that they now realize that megafires are breaking their budget.

But beyond that, has anything changed in their thinking? Sadly, the answer is no.

The Agency, specifically Fire and Aviation Management, is directly responsible for the megafire crisis. Their attitude of Let It Burn, through whoofoo (WFU, wildland fire use) and hammer (AMR, appropriate management response) has generated megafires every year this century.

The practice of eschewing rapid initial attack and dropping way, way back as hundreds of thousands of acres burn IS the reason fires go mega. That and the elimination of responsible forestry practices prior to the predictable and preventable holocausts.

Fire and Aviation Management is biology-challenged. They cannot get it through their thick little heads that biology is where fuels come from. Nor do they grok that megafires do not eliminate biology. The Agency burns and burns, and the vegetation grows back, typically as pyrophytic brush, which together with the dead woody biomass left on the ground from the last fire generates even bigger and more severe fires.

Fire and Aviation Management apparently believes that if they don’t do the job they are paid to do — suppress fires — that the fires will just go away. That is so dunderheaded and counter-rational that it defies description.

The Agency has lost touch with biology. They canned all their foresters and do not practice forestry anymore. They don’t even know what forestry is.

For what it’s worth, forestry is the art and science of managing forests so that they provide resource benefits. Without forestry, forests tend to build up enormous quantities of fuel and then burn in catastrophic megafires. When that happens, all resource benefits are degraded or lost forever.

Restoration forestry in particular is the art and science of preparing forests to receive fire so that forests are protected, maintained, and perpetuated. If restoration forestry is properly applied, fires are not severe and do not destroy resources.

In the briefing paper Fire and Aviation Management promises to:

… work with the identified forests, pre-fire season, so they have time to practice scenarios, and engage cooperators and the public regarding these innovative approaches.

Engaging the public is something they are totally inept at. When the Agency instituted whoofoo and hammer, they did NOT engage the public. They gave the public the finger and adopted catastrophic fire with no public involvement at all.

There have been no Environmental Assessments, no Environmental Impact Statements, no public discussion or involvement whatsoever. Whoofoo and hammer have been jammed down the public throat with back-of-the-hand disregard.

The latest bureaucratic atrocity is the adoption of Leave Early Or Stay And Defend, the selfsame program that led to over 200 deaths of men, women, and children in Australia last February. The Agency has instituted a “we don’t fight fires, we watch them burn your forests, watersheds, and communities to the ground” program — again with zero public involvement.

When the Agency says they wish to “engage the public,” they really mean they intend to burn you out whether you like it or not.

There is a forestry gap. The US Forest Service is death on forestry as well as death on forests and forest-adjacent communities.

Because they eliminated all professional foresters, the Agency no longer knows how or why to practice forestry. All they know is Burn, Baby, Burn.

It would behoove the Agency and Fire and Aviation Management to at least make an attempt to bridge the forestry gap. It would behoove the public, as well. It would behoove our forests and watersheds if some professional forestry, in particular professional restoration forestry, was actually implemented.

But that is not going to happen as long as the Agency remains clueless about what forestry is.

1 Jun 2009, 7:33pm
The 2009 Fire Season
by admin

Fire Weather in Oregon

The skies are flashing and rumbling over the Oregon Cascades right now. Moisture-laden low pressure off the Pacific Ocean is bumping into a high pressure cell over the eastern portion of the state. Thunderheads have developed in the High Cascades. Lightning is striking.

An unusually warm and dry May followed a wet and cold Winter. Vegetation growth has been phenomenal, although it often is in this green on green setting. Three cuttings of hay are likely this year. I thought somebody stole my pickup truck, but then I mowed the lawn and there it was.

That last bit is an Oregon joke, one I never tire of although others might.

High mountain fuels are still damp or under snow. If this lightning storm generates any fires, it is likely they will be in eastern Oregon. Two fires have already erupted there, the Geneva Fire [here] and the Green Grass Fire [here]. Lightning is also striking in Northern California, Southern Idaho, Nevada, and Utah (see the Vaisala Lightning Explorer here).

Some small fires have been ignited following over 900 lightning strikes in Nor Cal [here]. No fires from the other states mentioned have been reported from this lightning storm, as yet. W.I.S.E. Fire Tracking [here] is keeping a watchful eye.

To date this year 2,211,988 acres have burned (see the GACC report here), most of that (1,842,099 acres) in the Southern Region (Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, the Carolinas, etc.). That is more than twice the 10-year-to-date average reported by the National Fire News [here].

Note that the GACC and the National Fire News are reporting widely divergent numbers even though both are information branches of the National Interagency Fire Center. It is not at all clear why that should be. You would think the stats emanating from two branches of the same agency would be similar if not identical. It is difficult not to be cynical.

Whenever thunder crashes a variety of songs spring to mind. Today my brain is stuck on Dylan for some reason:

The air is gettin’ hotter, there’s a rumblin’ in the skies.
I’ve been wadin’ through high muddy water,
But the heat riseth in my eyes.
Everyday your memory grows dimmer,
It doesn’t haunt me like it done before.
I’ve been walkin’ through the middle of nowhere,
Tryin’ to get to heaven before they close the door.

Tryin’ To Get To Heaven — Bob Dylan, 1997, Time Out Of Mind

8 May 2009, 2:18pm
The 2009 Fire Season
by admin

Santa Barbarans Burned Again

You would think that somebody there would have figured it out by now.

Here you have a coastal community with a Mediterranean climate pinched between the Los Padres National Forest and the deep blue sea. Water to the south, chaparral to north. One of those two eco-types catches fire now and again. Guess which one.

The Los Padres NF is a vast fire-adapted ecosystem. That is well known. What is little known is that the kind of fires that have been most prevalent over the last ten thousand plus years have been anthropogenic ones.

Human beings have lived in Santa Barbara for 10,000+ years and generally have been adverse to catastrophic fire. Major fires destroy resources and so put the survival of the residents in jeopardy. The residents long ago realized that frequent, seasonal, deliberate burning was preferable to sitting around on backsides and waiting for the fuels to build up to catastrophic levels.

But unfortunately, in our modern mobile age, the current residents have forgotten, or not been clued into, the fact that flammable fuels accumulate in Mediterranean climates and will burn catastrophically unless treated before that happens.

The previous residents, during the entirety of the Holocene up until recently, managed to prevent catastrophic fires through experienced, applied stewardship, even though they lacked modern technology.

The current residents sit pretty much carefree or impotent in their technology-rich million-dollar homes. They are either clueless as to the hazard, or defenseless victims of forces they cannot control or influence, such as their own government.

The clueless hypothesis is questionable. Last year the Tea Fire [here] burned 200+ homes in Montecito and the Gap Fire [here] burned 9,400 acres north of Goleta in the West Camino Cielo area. The year before that the Zaca Fire burned 240,000 acres of the Los Padres NF over a two month period, cost more than $120 million in direct fire suppression expenses, and was the most expensive fire in California history.

Santa Barbarans have to know their landscape is flammable. There have been too many direct fire assaults to countenance claims of ignorance. Stupidity might be, but ignorance is not an excuse any longer.

As of yesterday evening the Jesusita Fire [here] had burned 75 residences in the Mission Canyon/Camino Cielo area adjacent to Santa Barbara. Over 30,000 residents have been evacuated. The fire is spreading west towards Goleta and south towards Montecito.

Last night more homes were destroyed as strong northwest winds fanned the flames. The Santa Maria Times reports [here]:

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It’s the Fuels, Stupid

I am working on a series of posts about Sierra Nevada fires. This particular post was to be one of them, and so by prematurely placing it here I am putting it a little out of order.

But, the issue of fuels and fire intensity is important and timely. Esteemed Australian forester Roger Underwood, Chairman of The Bush Fire Front, said [here]:

If fuels are allowed to accumulate, bushfires in eucalypt forests rapidly attain an intensity that exceeds the human capacity to extinguish them, notwithstanding the most modern and massive suppression forces.

Communities and economic assets in the path of high intensity fires will suffer horrible damage.

But! Potential damage can be minimised by application of a fire management system that incorporates responsible planning, and high standards of preparedness and damage mitigation, especially fuel reduction.

In short, excessive fuels contribute to fire severity and intensity, endangering forests, natural resources, and communities.

THE DEBATE ABOUT FUELS MANAGEMENT IS OVER. The scientific consensus is universal. Fuels management reduces fire intensity. Period. The end. Only a pro-holocaust terrorist or a moron would say otherwise.

And yet morons exist, in droves, and they continue to question the basic fact that fires burn biomass. My friend and highly regarded Australian Mountain Cattleman Phil Maguire of Bundarrah Days [here] notes that this kind moronity plagues Australia just as it does America.

The National Parks Advisory Council has the same problem with fuel reduction burning as every other radical green group. They claim it’s not effective. After the 2003 fires they stated in a submission to the Esplin Inquiry - a submission riddled with contradictions - that…

“Under extreme fire behaviour, when fires sweep through the tree crowns and spot many kilometres ahead, previously fuel reduced areas become largely ineffective in halting the fire front, though they may help reduce spread and damage around the flanks.”

That statement is counter-factual. There are innumerable cases where canopy fires dropped to ground when encountering thinned and fuel-managed areas. Recent megafires in AU and the USA were eventually contained, and the containment lines were all in reduced fuel areas. Fire suppression efforts were successful where fuels were limited, and unsuccessful where they were not.

The implication of the National Parks Advisory Council’s statement is that fires occur absent human intervention. That is patently absurd. Intervention is always applied to large fires — the question is where are the suppression efforts effective? The answer is where fuels have been reduced. In every case.

The following narrative is from the post-fire report on the Rich Fire of July 2008 [here] on the Plumas NF. It is yet another demonstration of efficacy of fuels management.

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Underwood on Australia’s Fires

Note from Mike: The following essay is a strident warning to Americans as well as Australians. Our forests and communities are under threat here just as in Victoria. Catastrophic fire is destructive and deadly (in the case of the Victoria fires of last month, over 200 men, women, and children were killed).

The lack of responsible forest management in the Western US is every bit as foolhardy and dire as the situation in Australia. Our forest fire crisis is untenable and unacceptable because the cure is evident and eminently achievable. Good stewardship will not prevent fires, but it will make them tame by comparison to the holocausts we have suffered seemingly every summer this century.

Roger Underwood is a renowned Australian forester with fifty years experience in bushfire management and bushfire science. He has worked as a firefighter, a district and regional manager, a research manager, and senior government administrator. He is Chairman of The Bush Fire Front, an independent professional group promoting best practices in bushfire management.

Bookmark this essay. It is classic and the message is vitally important to the survival of our forests and our communities.


Australian Bushfire Management: a case study in wisdom versus folly

By Roger Underwood

One man’s wisdom is another’s folly - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Many years ago, still a young man, I watched for the first time the grainy, flickering black and white film of the British infantry making their attack on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. The stark and terrible footage shows the disciplined soldiers climbing from their trenches and, in line abreast, walking slowly across no-man’s land towards the enemy lines. They scarcely travel a few paces before the German machine gunners open up. They are mown down in their thousands. They are chaff before a wind of fire.

I can still remember being struck nerveless by these images, and later my anger when I realised what that calamitous carnage represented. It spoke of the deep incompetence of the Generals who devised this strategy of doom and then insisted upon its implementation. It spoke of front-line men led by people without front-line experience. It spoke of battle planners unable to think through the consequences of their plans, and who devalued human lives. It spoke of a devastating failure of the human imagination.

Worst of all, the strategies of the World War I Generals demonstrated that they had not studied, or that they had forgotten, the lessons of history. In the final year of the American Civil war, 50 years earlier, the Union army had been equipped for the first time with Springfield repeating rifles, replacing the single shot muskets they had previously used and still were being used by the Confederate army. The impact on Confederate soldiers attacking defenders armed with repeating rifles was identical to that later inflicted by machine guns on the Western Front. But it was a lesson unlearnt, of collective wisdom unregarded.

None of you will have any difficulty in seeing where this analogy is taking me.

The catastrophic bushfires in Victoria this year, and the other great fires of recent years in Victoria, New South Wales, the ACT and South Australia are dramatic expressions not just of killing forces unleashed, but of human folly. No less than the foolish strategies of the World War I Generals, these bushfires and their outcomes speak of incompetent leadership and of failed imaginations. Most unforgivable of all, they demonstrate the inability of people in powerful and influential positions to profit from the lessons of history and to heed the wisdom of experience.

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‘Appropriate Management Response’ Tantamount to Arson

The Ukonom Complex Fires were ignited by lightning June 21, 2008. Initial attack was slow and meager. Four days later, when the fires totaled 750 acres, the Six Rivers National Forest invoked “Appropriate Management Response” and drew (on maps) a fire perimeter that encompassed 40,000 acres. They began to build fire breaks on that line and backburn towards the fire, then miles away.

Eventually the Ukonom Complex [here] burned over 80,000 acres and cost over $40 million in “suppression.”

The exact numbers are unknown because the Ukonom Complex was bureaucratically merged with the Panther Fire on the Klamath NF [here]. The Panther Fire was ignited a month later (by lightning) and eventually grew to 75,000 acres. Both fires were merged into the Siskiyou Complex and then into the Klamath Fire Theater [here]. The numbers became impossible to extract from the accounting jumble, but something like 200,000 acres burned at a cost of over $160 million.

Appropriate Management Response was applied to fire starts on the Shasta-Trinity NF, too. The final result: 208,460 acres burned at a “suppression” cost of $158.9 million.

All told, on those three NF’s (Klamath, Six Rivers, Shasta-Trinity) something like 650,000 acres (1,000 square miles) burned at a “suppression” cost of over $400 million. The fires burned for three months, choking Northern California airsheds, causing extensive public health problems, ruining agricultural crops, all but eliminating an entire season of recreation, and inflicting (conservatively) $10 billion in collateral economic damage. Major traditional heritage sites were incinerated, and an unknown but significant number of spotted owl nesting stands and salmon spawning beds were destroyed.

Twelve firefighters lost their lives, in machine accidents — not burnovers.

Appropriate Management Response broke the USFS fire budget, too.

Large amounts of private land were burned, too, in backburns set by USFS fire crews. Fires that could have been contained miles away were allowed to burn to the city limits of Junction City, Hayfork, and other NorCal towns.

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14 Mar 2009, 11:09pm
Saving Forests The 2009 Fire Season
by admin
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Our Understanding Of Fire

by Phil Maguire, Bundarrah Days, March 12, 2009 [here]

I WAS very young when I first become familiar with the term bushfire. I was so used to hearing it I grew up believing that fire in the bush was something that we Australians just accepted as a fact of life.

I didn’t know back then that fire came in different varieties depending on what was being burned and when. Too many urban Australians still don’t know that simple fact and merely repeat parrot fashion what they’ve been told by the green movement - “fire is a natural part of of our environment - get used to it, dude!”

There’s something really aggravating about being told to get used by fire by someone whose knowledge of fire in Australia is as lacking as their understanding of Australian vernacular.

The answer of course, is this. “Fire is a natural phenomenon mate, but how bloody natural is it when it’s your hair in flames, ay?”

Let’s get down to some facts. Australia’s native flora and fauna has evolved with fire from the very beginning. Man’s flirtation with fire on this continent started about 40,000 years ago. The Aborigines farmed with fire using it to clear ground for walking, to provide grass for game and even to nurture specific plant communities. This pattern of burning created a mosaic of recently burned country across the landscape that limited the spread of wildfires.

In addition to Aboriginal burning, lightning has always been a prime source of ignition. Lightning fires, however, often occur in relatively benign conditions and can be suppressed quickly, often by moisture, unless, as has been the case in recent years there is a massive fuel burned available to burn.

Too many urban Australians fail to understand that our forests have changed significantly since European settlement. If they were confronted by the same bushland as the explorers encountered they wouldn’t recognise it. And just as the bush has changed so has the nature of bushfire.

Nowadays the absence of frequent burning leads to a build-up of fine and heavy fuels resulting in the kind of holocaust fires we saw on Black Saturday.

The management of forests and fires is incredibly complex. The green mantra that “fire is natural, dude - get used to it” is far too simplistic and ignorant to warrant serious consideration and yet it rules the day. One tragedy leads to another.

We have to find a solution to our fire dilemma. Over the past six years lack of fuel reduction burning has lead to a massive increase in the area of bushland burnt by high-intensity fires - more than 4 million hectares since 2003.

There’s also another problem. The exclusion of fire in eucalypt forests and woodlands, in the absence of other fuel reduction strategies, causes the proliferation of shrubs and litter. It’s a fact that shrubs can significantly change the conditions in which overstorey eucalypts are growing. A shrub understorey shades out the forest floor, decreases soil temperatures and increases the moisture of the soil. Heavy layers of organic litter effectively mulch the forest floor causing changes in soil chemistry by altering the nitrogen cycling regime. These kinds of changes increase the vigour of pests and pathogens which in turn affect the health of the forest.

In addition, and we’ve pointed this out so often, when forests develop a scrub understory it burns for longer with much greater intensity, and as the trees have not evolved with these kinds of fires their health is badly affected.

14 Mar 2009, 10:46pm
The 2009 Fire Season
by admin
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Satellite Imagery of Victoria Fires

Captain Mike at Firefighter Blog [here] points to a link [here] showing satellite images of the towns of Marysville, Kinglake, Kinglake West, Churchill, Flowerdale, Murrindindi and Callingee, AU, taken 5 weeks after Black Saturday.

The images are slow to load but worth waiting for. The devastation is horrific.

1 Mar 2009, 9:19pm
The 2009 Fire Season
by admin

Australia Fire Relief Fund

From the Wildland Firefighter Foundation [here]:

Bodie Shaw, Deputy Director of the NIFC BIA (National Interagency Fire Center Bureau of Indian Affairs) is on exchange with the Australian state fire authorities this year. He has contacted The Wildland Firefighter Foundation after witnessing the devastating fire in Australia. In his 20 some years fighting Wildland fires he has never seen fire activity like he has witnessed recently. He said towns have been burned over, many children have perished as well as firefighters. He is asking for our humanitarian help.

Australian firefighters have come to the U.S. during our fire seasons to protect our public lands and homes and it is our time to reach out and help the Australians in their time of catastrophic need. We are now accepting donations for this very purpose. Please use our regular online donation form, but be sure to mention “Australia” in the Comments section.

Victoria bushfires stoked by green vote

by David Packham, The Australian News, February 10, 2009 [here]

VICTORIA has suffered the most tragic bushfire disaster to have occurred on this continent throughout its period of human habitation.

The deaths, loss of homes and businesses and the blow to our feeling of security will take decades to fade into history. The trauma will live with the victims, who, to a greater or lesser extent, are all of us.

How could this happen when we have been told in a withering, continuous barrage of public relations that with technology and well-polished uniforms, we can cope with the unleashing of huge forces of nature.

I have been a bushfire scientist for more than 50 years, dealing with all aspects of bushfires, from prescribed burning to flame chemistry, and serving as supervisor of fire weather services for Australia. We need to understand what has happened so that we can accept or prevent future fire disasters.

That this disaster was about to happen became clear when the weather bureau issued an accurate fire weather forecast last Wednesday, which prompted me, as a private citizen, to raise the alarm through a memo distributed to concerned residents.

The science is simple. A fire disaster of this nature requires a combination of hot, dry, windy weather in drought conditions. It also requires a source of ignition. In the past, this purpose has been served by lightning. In this disaster, lightning has not played a big part, and for this Victorians should be grateful. But other sources of ignition are ever-present. When the temperature and wind increase to extreme levels, small events — perhaps the scrape of metal across a rock, a transformer overheating or sparks from a diesel engine — are capable of starting a fire that can in minutes become unstoppable if the fuel is present.

The third and only controllable factor in this deadly triangle is fuel: the dead leaves, pieces of bark and grass that become the gas that feeds the 50m high flames that roar through the bush with the sound of jet engines.

Fuels build up year after year at an approximate rate of one tonne a hectare a year, up to a maximum of about 30 tonnes a hectare. If the fuels exceed about eight tonnes a hectare, disastrous fires can and will occur. Every objective analysis of the dynamics of fuel and fire concludes that unless the fuels are maintained at near the levels that our indigenous stewards of the land achieved, then we will have unhealthy and unsafe forests that from time to time will generate disasters such as the one that erupted on Saturday.

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A Mournful Day

by Phil Maguire, Bundarrah Days, Feb. 22, 2009 [here]

TODAY was our National Day of Mourning for Black Saturday. It was a dignified and impressive service, I thought, and it brought Australians together in sorrow in a way that made everyone who saw it feel part of the occasion.

I was particularly touched by the Aboriginal contribution. It was a day that should not have dawned any differently to any normal day. It was an occasion we should never had have had to have.

Just as bad generals lose soldiers and wars bad government and bureaucracies lose citizens to needless tragedies. We can trace the tragedy of Black Saturday back to the premiership of Steve Bracks. Four times in six years Victoria has suffered major bushfires causing deaths and massive property and asset losses.

This is due to the mad green policies of the Bracks Government and the ignorance of its leader. Steve Bracks was, to put it mildly, the most stupid man ever to lead Victoria. Was there ever an issue he actually understood? It is John Brumby’s sheer misfortune that this tragedy should take place on his watch because of all the Victorian ALP he was the one most likely to repair the damage caused by his predecessor.

We’re still counting the cost of Black Saturday in human terms. 209 people confirmed dead, including many children, and many more to be be confirmed. Our family was contacted by the police again yesterday making sure we had escaped. Before long we will be counting the environmental cost.

Fires are still burning in Melbourne’s water catchments and this is yet another tragedy in the making. Burnt forests not only affect water quality - as they regrow they absorb far more more water than mature forests adversely affecting water yield.

Some experts have forecast that a serious burning of Melbourne’s catchments could mean a loss of up to 50 per cent in water yield. This in itself is disastrous. Melbourne is already stealing water from north-eastern Victoria.

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