How has Australia been effected by bush fires?
Our Save The World Club looks at the Australian bush fire crisis.
A large fire broke out on Yorke Peninsula, South Australia on 20th November 2019 and threatened the towns of Yorketown and Edithburgh. It destroyed at least 11 homes and burnt approximately 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres). The fire was believed to have started from a sparking electrical transformer. Australia have had a drought a few years before the fires started, so everything was extremely dry beforehand. Also, most, if not all, trees in Australia have an oil substance in them, so it doesn’t take long before they set alight.
There is a widely-reported estimate that almost half a billion (480 million) animals have been killed by the bush fires in Australia. It’s a figure that came from Prof Chris Dickman, an expert on Australian biodiversity at the University of Sydney. At least 25,000 koalas are believed to have died in a horrific wildfire in South Australia that may have devastating consequences for the survival of the species.
Now the fires have consumed nearly 18 million acres of land, causing thousands of people to evacuate and killing millions of animals. They’re showing minimal signs of slowing down and the Australian state of New South Wales, where both Sydney and Canberra are located, declared a state of emergency this week, as worsening weather conditions could lead to even greater fire danger.
But a 50,000-year-old solution could exist: Aboriginal burning practices. Here’s how it works:
‘Aboriginal people had a deep knowledge of the land’ said historian Bill Gammage, an emeritus professor at Australian National University who studies Australian and Aboriginal history, ‘they can feel the grass and know if it would burn well; they knew what types of fires to burn for what types of land, how long to burn, and how frequently.’ But we don’t have those skills though.
Aboriginal techniques are based in part on fire prevention: ridding the land of fuel, like debris, scrub, undergrowth and certain grasses. The fuel alights easily, which allows for more intense flames that are harder to fight. The Aboriginal people would set small-scale fires that weren’t too intense and clear the land of the extra debris. The smaller intensity fires would lessen the impact on the insects and animals occupying the land, too, as well as protect the trees and the canopy.
And though current fire fighters on the ground still use some fuel control and hazard reduction techniques, Gammage said it’s not enough. ‘Some of it is being done, but not skillfully enough,’ he said. ‘We don’t really take into account plants and animals that might be endangered by fire. And secondly, we don’t really know what’s the best time of year, how much burn, how to break up a fire front.’ It’s not like they know nothing, Gammage said, especially the firefighters on the ground. But he said it’s not enough to make Australia safe.
By Charlotte Gould, 9Franklin