Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bushfires kill 180 Victorians - worst ever bushfire toll

February 8, 2008 (updated Feb. 10): Wildfires in Victoria have this last weekend killed at least 181 people and destroyed 700 homes, most of them in the heavily forested hill country northeast of Melbourne. Queenslanders' sympathy goes out to the victims. Please give to the appeals such as Red Cross on 1800 811 700. The towns including Kinglake and Marysville, have been virtually destroyed in the latest fire.
As much as this tragic time right now is one for grief and solidarity and not one for issuing blame, the questions must again be asked about how the management or mismanagement of the Australian landscape contributes to fires. An ABC news report stated: "And hard questions will be asked of Victoria's Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) about whether it has done enough to manage the state's forests."
When summer weather turns extreme, protected eucalypt and other native trees become lethal firebombs. The Kinglake Fire Brigade website reveals what is happening in our countryside across the nation: "Today the farming community is shrinking with the growth of rural-residential properties (5 acres or less) and the forests around the area are now either national parks or protected/controlled areas under the control of the DSE (Department of Sustainability and Environment) or Parks Victoria."
The Victorian DSE must take responsibility for much of the latest devastation just as the ACT Government was held accountable the devastating fires there in 2003. It's time for governments to think more rationally about trees when they present a fire threat to a community. Currently in municipalities Australia-wide, trees have 'sacred cow' status. Council environment departments have no qualms about sending property owners bankrupt (or even jailing them) if they destroy a tree. One Sydney waterfront property owner was fined $180,000 for the 'crime' of removing trees on his own property. What if those trees became fuel in a bushfire? In NSW and Queensland, beachfront property owners have their views blocked by screens when trees are poisoned or cut down. The screens carry messages accusing the people in the area as likely 'environmental criminals'. But again, what if that tree became fuel in a wildfire?
Mal Davies' SOS News website, a forum for rural activists fighting city-based bureaucracies, has bitterly attacked the ACT government for failing to understand forests and fire risks by simply locking up more and more land without fire management.
Snowy Mountains scientist Noeline Franklin had this to say about the environmental devastation after the 2003 Canberra tragedy: "What a celebration of chronically incompetent government management of public land and assets, Canberra is still surrounded by incinerated mountains,sun bleached boulders and bare fire-baked sub soil protruding like the skeleton of a dinosaur form the vista west of every suburban house window, with still silent bush turned from old growth forest to old ghost forest as rampant fire deformed scrub is devouring any chance of run off ... Water catchment was deprived cool fire fuel load hazard reduction, selective logging of major fuel load reduction, mixed species grazing animals deliberately fed to packs of wild dogs by the Government. Wildlife were on lands taken on the pretext of “biodiversity conservation.” Fed and bred exotic dingo mongrels! So much for the credibility of political propaganda."

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