Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bush Fires in Regional Australia - Information Sources

Photo: This is a first for me. Given my interests, I have been following the establishment of the Al Jazeera English language edition.

But this is the first time I have used one of their photos to illustrate an Australian story. I could not copy the right URL, but you will find their front page here.

Australia is a dry continent. For that reason, bushfires (wild fires in a US context) are common during the dry summer season.

These vary in scale, but can be substantial.

As perhaps the most dramatic case, on 6 February 1851 - 'Black Thursday' - fires covered a quarter of Victoria (approximately 5 million hectares). Areas affected include Portland, Plenty Ranges, Westernport, the Wimmera and Dandenong districts. Approximately 12 lives, one million sheep and thousands of cattle were lost.

On a smaller scale but still as dramatic because of its location, bushfires ravaged Canberra, the national capital, in January 2003 killing four people and destroying more than 500 homes. As I write, major fires are raging in Victoria and Tasmania.

Australia is a dry continent. When Captain James Cook first skirted the eastern shore line he saw many fires. Some were started by the aborigines who used fire as a tool. Others were started by lightning strikes, still a common phenomenon.

Today fires have a greater impact than then because more people choose to live in fixed locations in bush areas, especially on the outskirts of the major metro centres. Others move to rural blocks to pursue their life style dreams.

All this means that fire and the risk of fire is an issue that needs to be addressed in considering relocation locations, especially for those going bush for life style reasons. The same issues arise if you choose to live on the metro outskirts.

I am not saying this to be alarmist, simply pointing to issues that you need to think about.

There are many sources of information about ways to assess and manage bushfire risk. A short list follows:

Importantly, bushfire risks vary from area, there are different planning requirements in each state or territory, while individual local councils have their own approaches. For all these reasons it is important to check local conditions as part of your planning.

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