]> Fire management

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 simply to cause harm to other humans). and even to stop running around with exhaustion trying to chase those 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 in search of a better place, they brought with them the technology of fire. It would not be used to merely keep warm and frighten a few animals from approaching a group of humans at night. The early settlers saw a distinct advantage in using fire to trap and cook their food. The environment could be turned into a giant kitchen and oven for the humans. Unfortunately, the regular use of fire in this manner would vastly transform the Australian landscape over thousands of years from a once wet and relatively lushes continent of 60,000 to 100,000 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 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 presented a physical catchment and a means of pushing moist air to a higher altitude to form clouds and a greater propensity to fall as rain, and a means to direct the water to return back to the central areas, thereby ensuring high amounts of water would continue to flow through the various great rivers with reasonable regularity. To ensure the water would not evaporate too quickly, numerous trees and grasslands were present to guaranteed enough water on the ground and so keep the plant populations growing with ease.

However, along came man. The technology of fire used by enough people over many different areas and over sufficient time has seen the landscape transform. No longer could we have the sensitive, water loving plants survive over vast areas of the continent. The hardier trees such as the Eucalypts and certain wattles, grevilleas and other native plants were able to rely on less and less water and a poorer soil as the land became exposed to the sun and allowed water to evaporate more easily.

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. Human population was growing slowly to affect a certain number of animals. But fire would have affected many more, especially the larger slow-moving animals. Soon the animals had to change. Those that were too large and needed extra plant food and could not move fast enough were wiped out in favour of those 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, such as 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 was looking more and more like a desert. The inland sea reduced in size. Fewer trees could be seen to retain the moisture on the ground. A far cry from what it was like before man arrived. After the last Ice Age, the only thing people could rely on is the reasonable rainfalls, fewer in frequency but enough to replenish the rivers and maintain a small inland sea (looking more and more like a large lake, known today as Lake Eyre) and maintain the water cycle over the mountains.

Then the lake dried up and would not be replenished with freshwater until the following year. 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 sea. More time passed and by the time the first European settlers arrived, Lake Eyre may fill up once every 7 to 10 years. In the 21st century 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 are getting drastic for the people of Australia. As seemingly insignificant lifeforms walking on two legs has masterfully shown its impact on the continent through the passage of time, population, and the knowledge of starting fires. Today, we have effectively stopped the natural recycling systems from doing their work effectively enough for plants and other animals to survive.

What remaining plants we do have are already struggling to find enough water. Yet the worst for humans was to come. The remaining trees naturally retain certain oils to protect itself from being eaten by most animals as well as retain moisture for longer. When things get really dry for extended periods of time, Eucalypts will drop branches and bark during the lean times. The chance of a fire passing through these sparse forests and burning more intensely has become much higher than ever before.

In the 21st century, and especially in Australia, fire has become an absolute necessity. 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 in order to avoid these hot fires destroying the next generation of seeds laying dormant underground. Fry the seeds to oblivion and you are guaranteed of turning the Australian landscape into permanent deserts in a matter of no time. In fact, there are already plenty of places looking like a desert as we speak, except now it will expand and head towards the coasts.

Lighting up cool fires are the best way to keep the dry growth and fuel loads on the ground to a manageable and safe level, Many experts now see this as an essential activity in modern Australia. We have come to this point because of our poor decision to use fire to capture our food 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 are 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). However, where fuel reduction in the country is too large and too many places are drying up, a new approach to environmental protection is required. There is only one way this can be done, but that would require humans to start a new world order and tackle the issue of global warming head on. Something that will 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 will begin.

Until that time comes, 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 responsible for the continent we have created and can see today.

Although humans have, and will continue to, benefit from fire when clearing the lands for agriculture and in gathering enough animals for food and cooking (the native people still sees a need for it), not to mention (presumably) the environment by forcing a wide variety of Australian native plants to adapt and even depend on fire for its survival and propagation, uncontrolled fires can still have a negative impact on people, especially for those living in rural communities.

As Australia remains one of the driest and most susceptible places on Earth to experience severe fires, it is vitally important to take precautions and develop reasonably effective strategies to minimise the negative impact fires can have on the lives of people and their properties. 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.

Contents

  1. ABOUT FIRE
    What is fire and how to control it?
  2. UNDERSTANDING YOUR ENVIRONMENT
    How does your environment affect fires?
  3. PROTECTING YOUR ENVIRONMENT
    A check list for protecting the outside of your house
  4. PROTECTING YOUR ENVIRONMENT
    A check list for protecting the inside of your house
  5. PROTECTING PEOPLE
    A check list for protecting yourself and others
  6. CONCLUSION
    Dealing with people and the environment for effective fire management
  7. BIBLIOGRAPHY