So, bush fires

We know a few things about wild fires.

1) The American forests have largely evolved to have regular, low level, fires. Suppressing them has led to more high level and damaging fires. The solution is to let them burn more often.

2) We know the Abos used fire to manage the terrain. Extensively in fact.

3) Oz bush fires are happening a lot.

So, the question, are they happening enough? That is, are we seeing the Septic problem in Oz, not enough fires often enough, therefore they’re more damaging when they occur?

27 thoughts on “So, bush fires”

  1. The Greens in Australia have got things to the point where if you clear undergrowth on your property, you can be fined or jailed on the pretext of damaging endangered ecosystems — see the 2011 case of Maxwell Szulc from WA for an example.

  2. There’s a video around somewhere of an Aussie ‘backwoodsman’ expressing firm opinions on this, and about the people who stop them burning the crap in order to prevent the fires and protect their property.

  3. Another aspect of forestry was that in pre-industrial times, the local people removed dry wood for fuel.
    That reduced the intensity of fires.
    Now that we use fossil fuel, dry wood accumulates until it goes up in flames.

    I read a theory that the eucalyptus evolved an oily leaf so that fires around the area were fiercer and killed off other plants. Gaia likes diversity? Maybe not.

  4. Probably.

    The climate is a stable, self-correcting system. It must be logically. If it wasn’t, the slightest upset would cause a runaway cascade failure.
    Since the climate has been around millions of years and survives many volcanic eruptions, nuclear detonations and asteroid impacts without collapse, it must be pretty resilient.
    Sure, the equilibrium point might move a bit during ice ages and mega asteroid impacts, but it is otherwise relatively steady.
    Hence, if we stop things burning that needs to, stuff just gonna burn harder to compensate.
    More CO2? Plants grow more to remove it.
    Ships wreck? Becomes a coral reef.

    It may take a while, like with plastics, but since bacteria and fungus have evolved that can thrive in nuclear reactors and withstand extreme conditions, i don’t think it will be a big problem.

  5. It’s a long time since we lived in Queensland but even then there were complaints of not enough controlled burns.

  6. Yes.
    The Ozzy plants evolved not just to survive bush fires, but to use it to conquer encroaching species, like suburbs.
    The Blue Mountains are so called precisely because of the tree-generated fuel-air mixture generated for this purpose.

    Basic fire safety is to have a clear patch around houses, to reduce the limpact of fire.
    “Burning Lies” by Helene Young is a good novel with a lot of bush-fire survival detail.

    Then the greenshirts started prosecuting people for taking fire safety measures for their homes.
    In the last big lot, one house owner had recently been fined AUD10k for removing some trees next to his house. When the fire came, every house in the town was destroyed, except one. Guess which.
    The death toll was huge. For the greens, I guess that’s win-win.

  7. Depends on what type of forest. Many do not have fire incorporated into their life cycle.

    Here, in the US southeast, pine forest management does include burning off the ground cover every few years. Pine is a successional species, hence it is necessary to kill off the hardwood sprouts.

    Western trees are different from eastern trees. Crown fires are virtually unheard of in the East.

  8. Humans have used fire from the year dot. Native Americans set fire to the prairie, just as modern farmers set fire to stubble.
    Nature got there first. Wildfires are ubiquitous, from Siberia to the Amazon. (The possible exception is Atlantic broad leafed forest, but that is a managed resource too.)
    Put out a fire early and all you do is leave the underbrush to build up so that the next-but-n fire is devastating.

  9. Something that is definitely happening, both in Oz and in California, is that houses are being built in high fire risk locations. Climate change is making property developers behave stupidly.

  10. Other way round. Oz has always had problems with bush fires, and back to colonial times people used to have regular controlled burns to prevent these sorts of catastrophes. They started to resurface as a big problem in the 80s when I was growing up in Qld. Google “ash wednesday fires”. Interestingly they seemed to happen a lot more in Victoria (much more Greenie than QLD) rather than QLD (much hotter than Vic). As some of your other commenters have pointed out the culprit seemed to be the prevention of controlled burns on environmental grounds. This was finally acknowledged and the policies changed, problem went away. Seems to be swinging back again now ;o)
    Dont know enough about what’s going on in California despite working there now (dont live there, too much poo). But given the crazy shit I do see there, wouldnt surprise me

  11. We had a couple of years of bad wildfires in BC following a spell of good years and then back to normal, but it’s climate change that was the problem when the fires were burning, last year all the environmentalist were very quiet on the subject

  12. “Basic fire safety is to have a clear patch around houses, to reduce the impact of fire.”

    When we lived in South Australia the best advice went further than that. It suggested that rather than having fashionable native trees and shrubs nearest your house you should plant European species – by which was meant not combustible garrigue plants, but British broadleaf. That way their leaves would act as a shield from the heat, the plants themselves would not explode into flames, and they wouldn’t have been dropping litter (i.e. fuel) during the fire season.

    In other words, rather old-fashioned Ozzie habits were best, not the “green” habits adopted in the last few decades.

    Mind you, the last big local bushfire had stopped just three streets away from our house so we were rather attentive to advice.

  13. At a conference today – on investments – panel member makes big thing of climate risk in their investment portfolio. Big passionate speech about how we are seeing big changes and how in the next FIVE years there will be a huge event to show how dangerous climate change is. “Just look at the FOREST FIRES” as if that’s evidence of global warming.

    Moron. A highly paid one but a trend following moron nonetheless.

  14. in pre-industrial times, the local people removed dry wood for fuel

    Still happens on our local (Chiltern) common. When a tree falls, the landowner cuts it up into manageable chunks and it quickly disappears as the locals pop round with wheelbarrows to feed their woodburners.

    The ancient “Commoners’ Right” is called Estovers, which allowed you to collect fallen wood for your fire, but not to cut down trees.

  15. IN the US South West, pueblo Indians used forest fires as the basis for a hunting technique. They would set fire to neighboring forests each fall, rotating around the area on about a 9 year schedule. Come the spring, lots of animals would gather in the burned area to feast on the fresh green shoots — facilitating the hunting effort.

    As a result, when the honkys arrived, it was possible to ride a horse through healthy forests. The regular forest burning stopped, and now it can be hard even to walk through some of the forests because of the dense growth. Of course, fires still happen, but now they are much more destructive due to the over-growth. And if a natural fire does not start, insect infestations kill the overgrown trees.

    Strangely, Greenies object to hauling dead trees & excessive undergrowth out of the forests and burning them to generate electricity — preferring to leave them in the forest to fuel the next wildlife-destroying forest fire. Truly, Greenies have Blood On Their Hands.

  16. Note well that the Greens are getting away with killing people. There is little backlash; indeed they can use their catastrophes to promote their cause further.

    The Green/govt/media leviathan is difficult to stop. Us dying by the hundreds and thousands isn’t going to do it alone.

  17. Maritime Barbarian said:
    “in pre-industrial times, the local people removed dry wood for fuel”

    I still do. Take the dog for a walk, come back with a fallen branch. Open fire, haven’t bought any logs for years.

  18. ‘Estovers, which allowed you to collect fallen wood for your fire’

    Well, allowed the Commoners to collect the wood. If “you” weren’t a Commoner they might give you a good kicking if they caught you nicking their wood.

  19. Dear Mr Worstall

    Frequent ‘cool’ fires burn off accumulating fuel load.

    Putting them out is relatively easy, so the fire department does, leaving unburnt fuel. Fast forward a few years, throw in hot, dry weather and a strong wind and a fire will be hot, fast and uncontrollable. Anyone downwind is in danger.

    Managed burning in selected areas, with the right conditions of moisture, wind strength and direction will allow controlled removal of the fuel. The ‘authorities’ know this.

    They used to do it, now they don’t and people die as a result. Whatever happened to manslaughter as a crime? Or are ‘public servants’ exempt?


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