More bushfires

From a couple of replies to this post about my prediction for the outcomes of the Victorian Bushfires… I started to comment and then decided to turn it into a post.

So firstly, I’m not asking for agreement from anybody. I’m merely making a prediction. We’ll see how it turns out.

Regardless of what readers THINK: Fuel reduction burning does make a difference. It does not prevent bushfires but there is evidence from many studies to show that it leads to a smaller, cooler fire which does less damage and has a faster recovery.

As for the comment about councils butting out. I have some sympathy for the ieda of owning the trees and doing what I like. Where I live I’ve planted hundreds of trees. When I came here it was totally bare – everything here I planted – usually with a damn crowbar to dig the hole. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll cut them down if I want to and councils with significant-tree legislation can go jump.

However, getting councils to complete;y butt-out is not always a solution either. Sometimes they have a role in forcing idiots to clear junk away from their houses!

Here’s an idea:  mandatory house insurance. Instead of it being optional, you must have insurance, and if you don’t the council has the right to set your rates at (say) 10 times normal. The insurance industry would then police the risk and price policies accordingly – if you reduced your risk you get a better price. You can just imagine the insurance companies would have a few guys out doing an actual property inspection before the price was set! A nice market solution with incentives all round.

Right now there is little incentive for a home owner to do anything, the fire events are few and far between. When the devastation comes the loss is huge and may or may not be covered by insurance. A regular jag in the hip pocket on the other hand would force behaviour change by those who need it most. They can live in the bush if they want – so long as they pay according to their bahviour and choices.

2 Comments

All this pussy footing around makes me angry. I live on a highly ‘wooded’ block (much of it propagated by me) and can’t cut down gum trees adjacent to the house despite them being 100’s of years old and way past their prime . .not so much from a bushfire threat but worry about their branches falling on my heavily insured roof and them providing a superhighway for rats into my roof when it rains! (nobody’s thought about the fire implications of these little buggers eating my electrical wires!) Yet just over my back paddock, a developer cleared just about every damn tree in order to squeeze in 100’s of McMansions on 700square metre blocks . .where’s the justice?

Comment by Baino | February 22nd, 2009 8:21 am | Permalink

Interesting that you don’t hear of the same levels of devastation in the North of the country, and I’m convinced that not all of the difference can be explained by population density, either.

I’ve lived in both SA and North Queensland, and I must say I have seen some homes I would not want to live in due to fire risk, but more of those were in SA than up North, by far.

North Queensland has over half a million people – living dispersed in small towns and a couple of major centres. In between, there are thousands of rural dwellings – often on 1 acre, often 20, or 100. The natural bush here is full of trees – lots of them, but not quite a dense in the foliage as you find in the South.
The dry season extends for over 6 months, and for the most part, during this time, not a drop of rain falls, so if there was no back burning, there is a potential for a huge amount of fuel build-up.
For the most part, the major fuel is grass, and this is consumed to some extent by cattle and termites. Nonetheless, there is a high respect for the toll a fire can take, so most rural properties are surrounded by 5-10 metre firebreaks – with either tilled soil or closely mowed grass between properties. The power authority takes fire seriously as well, and prune back similar firebreaks below any overhead lines (For a case of amber liquid, it is possible to convince the pruning contractors to leave a mountain of mulch on your property resulting from the pruning effort).

While I was in the Rural Fire Brigade in Queensland, as soon as the wet season finished, we started lighting up fires. Many property owners appreciated a complete burnoff every couple of years if they didn’t run cattle. The university campus here in Townsville gets burnt off regularly, as does the army barracks land and the ‘town common’ – a grassy plain in the city. Many yahoos do indeed set fire to other areas every dry season.. funnily enough usually on windy days during school holidays, but these fires are usually fairly easy to contain near built-up areas. almost every year, one or more fires gets away and burns a few hills in the distance.

The picture I’m trying to paint here is that frequent fires are natural in this country. Everyone should be aware of it, and everyone should think about reducing fuel. Any council that does not let a tree get cut down or sufficiently pruned back – especially one overhanging a dewlling should offer a regular back-burning service or other appropriate means to control the fuel load.

Comment by Don | February 22nd, 2009 11:19 am | Permalink

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