Fire management

Do you know how to survive a fire?

Fires are a natural part of life. We need it for warmth, to cook food, to keep other animals and some humans at bay (usually those with a conquering attitude and a willingness to steal whatever they want, or to cause harm to other humans for whatever reason). and even to stop running around with exhaustion trying to chase fast moving, tricky and tasty critters that human meat-eaters seem determined to consume (and yes, those extra trees and bushes do get in the way of a good spear flying through the air).

This is particularly true in Australia. Since the days when the first Aborigines migrated to this continent from south-east Asia in search of a better place, they brought with them the technology of fire and used it in a dramatic way. It would not be used to merely keep warm and frighten a few animals off at night. The early settlers discovered a new advantage in using fire to trap and cook their food. The environment was seen as a giant kitchen and oven for the early humans. Unfortunately, the regular use of fire in this manner has vastly transformed the Australian landscape over thousands of years from a once wet and relatively lushes continent of 60,000 to 100,000 years ago (and even as recent as 10,000 years ago) to one of the driest continents in the world today. Some people will argue that it is all to do with climate change. During interglacial periods, rainfall levels can reduce. But it wasn't enough to turn Australia into a desert as we see today. The Ice Ages would return and the rainfalls increase, the large inland sea of the Australian mainland would be replenished more regularly and kept to a large size by the extra trees growing to follow the extra water supplies and reduce the water loss through evaporation. However, humans in Australia were slowing this natural process and even affecting the type of trees and bushes that could survive an increasingly drier continent.

It is true that the Blue Mountains along the eastern continent was already being slowly weathered down through rain (as the ancient volcanoes have become extinct). Yet despite a lowering of the mountain height, rainfall was reliable and plentiful. The mountains naturally provided a sufficient physical catchment and a means of pushing moist air to a higher altitude to form clouds and a greater propensity for rain to fall. Eventually, enough water would return to the central areas, thereby ensuring high amounts of water would replenish the great rivers with reasonable regularity. There was enough water on the ground to keep the plant populations surviving and growing with ease until the next rainfall. However, along came man. The technology of fire and exposing the land to greater evaporation helped to change the type of plants that could cope and their numbers.

Over several tens of thousands of years, rainforest and semi-tropical trees and tall palms made way for the hardier and fewer trees such as the Eucalypts and certain wattles, grevilleas and other native plants that could rely on much less water and a poorer soil as the land became exposed to the sun and wind. The once rich soils became increasingly baked in the summer sun to become more sandy and deficient in essential nutrients as the biomass in the soil reduced. More water was evaporating more quickly.

At some point, all this would affect the largest animals that existed during the last Ice Age more than 10,000 years ago. As first, the cumbersome, large megafauna and other interesting and exotic animals that once existed in Australia during the wetter early period were too slow to escape the increased numbers of fires brought on by the new inhabitants and so avoid the humans. They had survived numerous Ice Ages and interglacial periods, but not in the presence of the new two-legged invaders. Human population was growing slowly to affect a certain number of animals all because of one thing: fire. If the animals were too slow to move, then spears and fire would trap them and have them cooked. Combine with less nutritious plants and fruits, fewer plants, and less water, soon the type of animals that could survive had to change. Those considered too large and cumbersome and needed extra plant food for extra energy and to vuild enough protein were wiped out in favour of smaller "faster moving or able to hide underground, and able to reproduce more quickly" creatures making up our so-called great modern Australian biodiversity of wildlife. These adaptable animals include the kangaroos, echidnas, and the surprisingly resilient and tough wombat for its size and speed (hiding underground turned out to be a very useful adaptation during a fire).

In the last 8,000 years, central Australia showed more signs of becoming a desert. It would appear that the great inland freshwater sea was reducing in size. Before long, the sea looked more like a large lake (known as Lake Eyre). It was struggling to be replenished by the reduced rainfall over the mountains to return to central Australia through the great rivers. Fewer trees could be seen to retain the moisture on the ground.

The lake dried up in the summer on certain years and would not be replenished with freshwater. Centuries passed and with more changes to the landscape, soon it would be every 2 to 3 years before enough water could create a reasonable inland lake. More time passed and by the time the first European settlers arrived, Lake Eyre may have filled up once every 7 to 10 years at the good times. Now, in the 21st century and dominated by climate change (i.e., global warming), humans will be lucky to see the central continent fill with water once every 25 or more years, or maybe not at all. Things have become drastic for the people of Australia. As seemingly insignificant lifeforms walking on two legs, humans have masterfully shown its impact on the continent through the passage of time, population, and the knowledge of starting fires for its own needs and a little extra (a form of collateral damage caused by uncontrolled fires and with more natural bushfires starting from lightning strikes). Today, we have effectively stopped the natural recycling systems from doing their work and have affected enough plants and other animals.

On the positive side, the Australian Aborigines did notice certain patterns in the environment. Among those patterns is the discovery of the benefits of fire to reduce the natural and dry fuel loads from plants dropping their leaves, branches and bark, and grasslands. Less intense bushfires, and more animals have a better chance of surviving. The true native humans in Australia are now experts in fire management in a natural environment.

As we can see, in the 21st century, and especially in Australia, fire has become an absolute necessity. Perhaps not so much to capture food, but for controlling the excessive build up of dry growth that has the potential to create bigger and more dangerous hot fires. It is not just to protect human life and property. In the next couple of decades, it will be necessary to reduce fuel loads on the ground, and somehow done on a vast scale in order to avoid these hot fires destroying the next generation of seeds laying dormant underground. Or else a big enough fire will fry the seeds to oblivion with too great a fuel load and a hotter fire and you are guaranteed of turning the Australian landscape into a permanent desert over the entire continent.

Lighting up cool fires is the best way to keep the dry growth and fuel loads on the ground to a manageable and safer level. Many experts now see this as an essential activity in modern Australia and must continue until such time as new vast scaled solutions are implemented to pump back freshwater into central Australia and many more trees are growing on the land (starting along rivers and moving over land). Then the rainfall recycling system will restart and be maintained for longer. Until then, the Australian people have come to where it is today because of our poor decision to use fire to capture our food (and not find more efficient hunting techniques) only for nature to accelerate the process once the trees were reduced and the ground exposed and made drier. We are forever indebted to those very early settlers for making this country for what it is today, and for those alive today to clear the land further for growing agriculture and new places for humans to live. Cool fires at the right time of the year appears to be our last remaining hope of maintaining our current way of life if we are to save cities and towns from being burned to a crisp, and at the same time keep our existing wildlife constantly on their toes (we can understand why kangaroos are constantly hopping mad to avoid getting their toes cooked).

A new approach to environmental protection is required. Sure, we need to get the people of townships and the outskirts of cities involved in hazard reduction programs at the right time of the year and with assistance from the aborigines. However, due to the size of Australia, it is too big. Lightning strikes, power lines, broken glass bottles, and accidental or deliberate burning by humans are going to affect the rest of the land. Thick smoke, vast forested areas getting burnt out, and many animals dying, are going to be the norm. All this will affect the economy through reduced tourist dollars (or else we must turn to mining as the only solution for the economy). To permanently fix the latter problem requires humans to do something completely different. Essentially we must start a new social order within Australia. This is the sort of thing we need to tackle the issue of global warming head on. It would be akin to breaking up the current economic system into two parts, with one part dedicated to looking after the environment, and the remaining group re-focused on developing the technologies to support the environmental society and any other high priority work. This would be a time when profit will end, leaders will lead, and a new hope for the future will begin.

Only those who rely on the current economy to generate high profits will always disagree. As the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) have said on 13 January 2020, the forestry industry could help to reduce the bushfire threat by widening the range of forests that can be "thinned out" (i.e., through logging) and more hazard reduction burning in the winter time for those areas that have been cleared. But as scientists have warned, thinning down trees could have the opposite effect by increasing bushfires. Apart from drying out more of the ground as the radiation from the Sun reaches the ground and evaporates any remaining water, less trees means less of a chance to reduce the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. One needs more trees to reverse climate change, not a reduction in the number of trees. The suggestion is being seen as a cynical attempt by the forestry industry to make more profits and not deal with the growing climate change problem.

As for R-wing government and commentators with a financially-vested interest in maintaining the current economy, they will constantly reinforce their own beliefs on R-wing news sites (e.g., Sky News) that we are still in an Ice Age and we need more warming for conditions to improve.

The current economy with its rich and powerful leaders and supporters is a kind of cult not unlike what we see in the Church of Scientology. There are efforts to brainwash western citizens through their own preferred news channels and programs, and yet no one wants to listen to the evidence unless it supports their own belief system. One cannot reason with such individuals unless, of course, they can see the economy is being seriously affected. Only when profits received by these people take a dramatic nose dive will any change take place.

Until the time comes when common sense will prevail and we can transform society to where it needs to be, fire has to be seen as a positive effect on the natural environment if managed right and one that has to be human-induced as a matter of survival. We have no choice. We are primarily responsible for the continent we have created and can see today. We had a choice following the last Ice Age to maintain a thick canopy of trees and retain moisture on the ground (and for the large inland sea of the Australian mainland to stay put for longer to help maintain high levels of rainfall). Now we have squandered that opportunity.

As Australia remains one of the driest and most susceptible places on Earth to experience severe fires, this is where this free information section comes in handy. We provide you with the essentials in managing and controlling fires as well as ways to prevent fires from taking hold or reaching regions of human habitation. We have included basic information about the factors controlling a fire and what you can do to protect the environment, yourself and others against the threat of a fire.

If you would like to see other information included in this section (whether to improve on this topic or suggest new areas worthy of discussion), don't hesitate to send us a message.


    What is fire and how to control it?
    How does your environment affect fires?
    A check list for protecting the outside of your house
    A check list for protecting the inside of your house
    A check list for protecting yourself and others
    Dealing with people and the environment for effective fire management