It happened after Victoria’s Black Saturday fires in 2009. It happened after the Canberra bushfires, 10 years ago on Friday. And it’s happening now in Tasmania.
“Now is not the time for that conversation,” says the Tasmanian Minister for Emergency Management, David O’Byrne, avoiding questions about why adequate hazard reduction burns were not done in cooler months to remove fuel from the path of inevitable summer fires.
Now is the time for farmers to complain that they could never get a permit to burn off excessive ground fuel on their properties.
Now, while public attention is focused, and before the truth can be buried for years.
Now is the time to point out, perhaps, that a fire which begins in a national park carrying negligently heavy loads of ground fuel can become an unstoppable inferno which will eventually burst out into the Canberra suburbs and kill four people and consume 500 homes.
Now is the time for people who understand the bush to tell the rest of Australia what fools we are.
“Fuel reduction burns make it possible to fight and control a fire; what happened here was uncontrollable,” Dunalley farmer Leigh Arnold told The Australian.
Greenies who oppose such burnoffs, “care more about birds and wildlife than they do about people and farms,” he said.
“But what’s the point of that now when the hills and trees they told me I couldn’t burn off, because there were protected eagles and swift parrots there, are now all burned and the fire it created was so hot we had dead swans dropping out of the sky?”
No, the only permissible comment on a bushfire catastrophe is to say it was caused by “climate change” – that convenient get-out-of-jail free card for greenies, governments and the obstructive bureaucracies they jointly create.
But we’ve heard it all before, and we’re not buying it.
“It’s really simple,” says Brian Williams, captain of the Kurrajong Heights bushfire brigade, a veteran of 44 years of firefighting, in one of the most extreme fire risk areas of Australia, on a ridge surrounded by 0.75 million hectares of overgrown national park between the Blue Mountains and Wollemi.
“Fires run on fuel. Limited fuel means limited fire.”
Green tape and heavy-handed bureaucracy has made his job harder today than in 28 years as captain. Rather than needing six people to perform a controlled burn in the cooler months, now 40 are involved, to oversee biodiversity and so on.
Williams managed to conduct just two of the five hazard reduction burns he planned before this fire season.
But don’t blame greenies. All week they have been claiming they support hazard reduction. Really?
No matter what legalistic and linguistic ploys are now used to rewrite history, green hostility to proper bushfire management is on the record, from the light-green NIMBYs who object to smoke, to green lobbyists who infiltrate government decision-making, taxpayer-funded green activists who embed themselves in government agencies, the bureaucratic green tape which makes the job of volunteer firefighters so difficult, the green NGOs who strongarm politicians, right up to the political arm of green ideology, The Greens.
It is true The Greens have developed a new set of “aims” including a caveat-studded “effective and sustainable strategy for fuel-reduction management”.
In practice, on the ground, it amounts to covert opposition. Williams scoffs at the Orwellian sophistry: “They publicly say they support it. The reality of how it pans out is nothing like that. Greens have two faces and underneath they are undermining everything.”
While there have been improvements under a new state government, Williams says hazard reduction is still inadequate across NSW, reaching just 1 per cent rather than the 5 per cent minimum recommended by the Victorian bushfire inquiry.
At least in the hard-won patch of Volunteer Fire Fighter Association president Peter Cannon, around Dubbo, Parkes and Forbes, hazard reduction is complete this year and he is confident any fires will be controllable.
He says it is a credit to hard-working firefighters that Tasmania-scale destruction has not occurred in NSW despite extreme fire conditions.
Another bright spot is the latest Rural Fire Service annual report which says more than 80 per cent of planned hazard reduction was achieved, and the area treated should increase by 45 per cent over three years.
It’s not enough but it’s a welcome change from the dark days of 2003, eight months before the Canberra inferno, when former RFS Commissioner Phil Koperberg told a NSW parliamentary inquiry that widespread hazard reduction was “an exercise in futility”.
Fast forward to last month and blame for that fire has finally been laid where it belongs, at the feet of Koperberg’s RFS and the green-influenced National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Brinadabella farmer Wayne West, whose property was wiped out in the fires, sued the two agencies. Last month in the ACT Supreme Court, Chief Justice Terrence Higgins found them negligent.
The episode demonstrated how green pressure on decision-makers filters down into a cascade of subtle bureaucratic obstructions which disempower firefighters on the ground and disregard their expertise.
The result in 2003 was that a small fire at McIntyre’s Hut in the Brindabella ranges was allowed to rage out of control through the national park to emerge 10 days later, and burn lethally through Canberra’s suburbs.
Unfortunately for West and his insurance company, the government agencies are protected by statute and don’t have to pay compensation.
But West won a moral victory. We all are in his debt because he fought for the truth and refused to shut up.