Tassie Forest Fires - a climate wake up call

Burnt cushion plants and pencil pine at Lake Mackenzie after bushfires tore through  the area in Tasmania’s Central Plateau. Picture: ROB BLAKERSFires have raged across Tasmania since lightning strikes ignited more than 100 spot fires on January 13. Since that time, about 14,000 hectares of World Heritage Area forests and other vegetation have been incinerated, with almost 100,000 hectares of land burnt in total.

IMAGE LEFT: Burnt cushion plants and pencil pine at Lake Mackenzie after bushfires tore through the area in Tasmanias Central Plateau. Picture: ROB BLAKERS

Overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the fires, the Tasmanian Fire Service (TFS) initially – and understandably - concentrated on human assets like towns and infrastructure. As TFS workers fought a heroic campaign against fires that threatened communities, a series of wildfires burnt huge areas in the north-west and on the central plateau. It was the arrival of milder weather as well as additional fire-fighting crews from interstate in the second week, especially teams of remote area fire fighters, which allowed serious operations to occur to slow the fires in mountainous and forested regions.

Please sign our petition to the Premier of Tasmania, Will Hodgman, requesting him to establish an independent inquiry into the fire. The letter is cc’d to the federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, because of the government’s obligations under the World Heritage Convention.


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Large areas of the Tarkine, the Mersey Valley and February Plains, within the Walls of Jerusalem and Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair national parks, and the Central plateau have now burnt. The world famous Overland track has been closed for more than a week. Part of the Southwest national park has also burnt, only 15 kilometres up-wind from Gondwanic vegetation on Mt Anne. The economic and ecological costs of the fires will be enormous.

Apart from direct impacts on landscapes and forests of these fires, there is the fact that much of the alpine and sub alpine vegetation that has been burnt is highly sensitive to fire. Trees more than 1,000 years old have been destroyed, with recovery expected to take centuries, if it happens at all. Some experts say much of the burnt areas of alpine flora is unlikely to ever recover.

As noted by fire ecologist David Bowman the fires are “a sign of climate change”.

"This is bigger than us. This is what climate change looks like, this is what scientists have been telling people, this is system collapse."

Climate scientist Prof Steffen says that extreme fire weather risk in Tasmania has increased over the last 30 years due to the influence of climate change.

There is the very real risk that we are now witnessing the beginning of the end for these ancient remnants of vegetation.

Something has gone wrong:

It seems that both federal and state governments have ignored climate science. It is anticipated that there will be an increase in dry lightning strikes, which can be expected to start fires in remote and mountainous regions. Fire seasons are expected to be longer and start earlier. Yet the state government has been engaging in fire fighting with a ‘business as usual’ mind frame.

Tasmanian fire fighters were only able to undertake substantial action against the wild fires after they had become too large to contain. This is shown by the Lake Mackenzie and February Plains fires. On ground work and aerial water bombing started in earnest after the arrival of fire fighters from interstate, more than ten days after the first ignitions. It seems that Tasmanian fire-fighting authorities have insufficient resources and remote fire-fighting crews to be able to contain these types of fires under the record dry conditions. Climate change will continue to dry out the Tasmanian landscape, making fire seasons longer and more extreme.

We need to make sure that the lessons of these fires are not lost.

We need to be better prepared for the next catastrophic fires, with the ability to stop remote area fires before they become established.

Please sign our petition to the Premier of Tasmania, Will Hodgman, requesting him to establish an independent inquiry into the fire. The letter is cc’d to the federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, because of the government’s obligations under the World Heritage Convention.

There is an opinion piece from The Conversation about the need for better resourcing for fighting remote fires, available here.

There is background information on the fires available here.

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