Interesting research on black summer fires.

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Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby wildwanderer » Tue 11 May, 2021 7:18 am

https://www.smh.com.au/environment/clim ... 57qif.html

Fairly concerning research concluding that most of our prevention techniques have little impact in extreme conditions. Let's hope there's some money for more aerial tankers.

Suprising that forests in their natural state actually slowed the fire.

“Right at its peak, the massive crown fire encountered the old, never-logged mountain ash on Mount Disappointment and dropped down to a slow-spreading surface fire,” Professor Zylstra said.

“Unlogged, long-unburnt forest was the single greatest impediment in the run of that fire, holding its ground against all spatial and weather drivers,” he said.


Weather conditions were so extreme and landscapes so dry during the Black Summer bushfires that normal fire mitigation practices such as forestry management or hazard reduction burns had little impact on the devastation caused.
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby north-north-west » Tue 11 May, 2021 7:36 am

wildwanderer wrote:Suprising that forests in their natural state actually slowed the fire.


There's nothing surprising about it if you've ever listened to fire scientists and ecologists. They've been saying this for ages.
Plantations are especially vulnerable to fire as they are monoiculture and the species involved (Pine - most commonly radiata - and certain eucalypts) are highly resinous and particularly fireprone.
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby icefest » Tue 11 May, 2021 9:58 pm

“Unlogged, long-unburnt forest was the single greatest impediment in the run of that fire, holding its ground against all spatial and weather drivers,” he said.

Professor Bradstock said the research produced a “middle of the road result” between those who argue forestry made bushfires worse by opening up the canopy and drying out the vegetation, and those who back logging as a way to reduce vegetation.


Seems to me that this two are mutually exclusive.

It maybe it's that the old growth area on Mt Disappointment more than 1200mm of rain a year, as opposed to the odd 600mm of the lower drier forests around it.

-- I need to read that article!
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby wildwanderer » Wed 12 May, 2021 6:47 am

icefest wrote:
“Unlogged, long-unburnt forest was the single greatest impediment in the run of that fire, holding its ground against all spatial and weather drivers,” he said.

Professor Bradstock said the research produced a “middle of the road result” between those who argue forestry made bushfires worse by opening up the canopy and drying out the vegetation, and those who back logging as a way to reduce vegetation.


Seems to me that this two are mutually exclusive.

It maybe it's that the old growth area on Mt Disappointment more than 1200mm of rain a year, as opposed to the odd 600mm of the lower drier forests around it.

-- I need to read that article!


To often reports and commissions seem to conclude one thing and then another part of their report does a U-turn and concludes the opposite. And as a result people just shrug.

I remember a analysis that looked into hazard reduction in the greater Sydney area over 20 some years. It found (from memory) that 25% of the burns had a postive effect (on reducing bushfire), 50% no effect, 25% made it worse.

So essentially bushfire prevention/harm minimisation is a very complex thing and difficult to get right.

I'm a advocate of more early detection resources, more water bombers and early attack remote area fire crews. Basically let's go with something that definitely works.. putting out the fire when it's small.
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby potato » Wed 12 May, 2021 11:41 am

The scientific community have known about this for years - the fuel management and fire fighting techniques don't really have a solid scientific basis, particularly in SE Aust. Dont get me wrong, there is a lot of good science out there, it is however very specific and nuanced. The science however poorly generalised and applied inappropriately.

...and this was before we really started to see the impacts of climate change.

Now that we are seeing the impacts of climate change, all is out the window... even dare I say the techniques that have been applied over the millennia SE Aust. These techniques were applied under different climatic conditions and for largely different reasons. We are beyond those conditions now - we need to move away from broadscale hazard reduction and focus on asset(environmental, people etc) protection.
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby Chris » Fri 14 May, 2021 5:51 pm

Another interesting and worrying view from Prof David Bowman in a recent lecture to the Royal Society of Tasmania in Launceston.

The promo for the lecture:

Professor Bowman holds a research chair in Pyrogeography and Fire Science in the School of Natural Sciences and is the Director of the transdisciplinary Fire Centre at the University of Tasmania. He is developing the transdisciplinary field of pyrogeography that provides a synthetic understanding of landscape burning, uniting human, physical and biological dimensions of fire from the geological past into the future and spanning local to global geographic scales.

Pyrogeographic thinking can enable transition from the current vicious cycle of problematizing wildfire disasters to a more virtuous cycle of problem solving to achieve sustainable co-existence with fire. Pyrogeography gives voice to points of view lying outside classical fire science and fire management paradigms -- revealing both barriers and opportunities for social and environmental adaptation. Case-studies involving cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary collaborations will illustrate how Pyrogeography creates space for innovation, fosters diversity, and provides pathways for building social capacity and capital in communities vulnerable to fire disasters.

You can hear it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHzE8cHP_LQ&t=50s
Perhaps of particular concern for those who live in Hobart, but not all negative, and relevant to us all.
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby mtrain » Wed 19 May, 2021 6:38 pm

I heard an interview a while ago on the abc where the researcher was discussing this very thing. He was also proposing that as the climate changes more and becomes a more fire promoting climate we will go through this period of increased severe fires but as ecosystems are repeatedly burned it will create a selection pressure where many fire promoting species get burnt out and the vegetation types change to less flammable species leading to a reduction in fire severity. It’s basically standard evolutionary change but possibly over a shorter period than previously happened.
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby wildwanderer » Wed 19 May, 2021 6:47 pm

mtrain wrote:I heard an interview a while ago on the abc where the researcher was discussing this very thing. He was also proposing that as the climate changes more and becomes a more fire promoting climate we will go through this period of increased severe fires but as ecosystems are repeatedly burned it will create a selection pressure where many fire promoting species get burnt out and the vegetation types change to less flammable species leading to a reduction in fire severity. It’s basically standard evolutionary change but possibly over a shorter period than previously happened.


Very interesting. Do you have a link?
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby mtrain » Wed 19 May, 2021 9:20 pm

wildwanderer wrote:
mtrain wrote:I heard an interview a while ago on the abc where the researcher was discussing this very thing. He was also proposing that as the climate changes more and becomes a more fire promoting climate we will go through this period of increased severe fires but as ecosystems are repeatedly burned it will create a selection pressure where many fire promoting species get burnt out and the vegetation types change to less flammable species leading to a reduction in fire severity. It’s basically standard evolutionary change but possibly over a shorter period than previously happened.


Very interesting. Do you have a link?



Sorry not sure but it may have been big ideas podcast 31 august 2020 Bushfires: our past present and possible future.
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby potato » Thu 20 May, 2021 8:20 am

mtrain wrote:I heard an interview a while ago on the abc where the researcher was discussing this very thing. He was also proposing that as the climate changes more and becomes a more fire promoting climate we will go through this period of increased severe fires but as ecosystems are repeatedly burned it will create a selection pressure where many fire promoting species get burnt out and the vegetation types change to less flammable species leading to a reduction in fire severity. It’s basically standard evolutionary change but possibly over a shorter period than previously happened.


We already see it with some applications of prescribed burning.
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby wildwanderer » Fri 21 May, 2021 7:33 am

It's an interesting and appealing proposition. (To transition to fire inhibiting plant species) however how realistic is it to have a mass transition? (In anything short of the usual evolutionary process of thousands/millions of years)

Much (77%) of Australia's native forests are dominated by eucalyptus varieties which unfortunately burn very well.

After fires most of the Eucalyptus survive, reshoot and so the cycle begins anew. They are highly fire adapted.

Some references.

https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/f ... alypt-2019

https://biology.anu.edu.au/news-events/ ... -eucalpyts
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby Hughmac » Sat 22 May, 2021 5:36 pm

Prescribed burns essentially originated as an outcome of the Royal Commission into the Black Friday fires of 1939 in Victoria. There was no real evidence to support their application, they just couldn't think of anything that might work better - Stretton refused to accept that the best possible management regime might be to leave the forests in their natural state, despite strong presentations from Victoria's catchment managers. Scientists have known for ages that prescribed burns are essentially useless in extreme conditions, and can in fact create an even greater fuel load. There is also much evidence to suggest that backburns during fire events can cause more harm than good - three of the worst fires in NSW during the Black Summer fires started as backburns which destroyed countless homes and took a number of lives, including the firefighters who died at Balmoral.
I know that RFS volunteers do it for the right reason, but at the end of the day they are well meaning volunteers with limited training and experience, and the continuing failure of state and federal governments to learn the lessons that history and science provide create impossible expectations of them while putting them at unnecessary risk. Their only role during bushfires should the protection of lives and property. Attacking fires should be left to professionals such as the NPWS remote fire teams.
For anyone interested in the history of fire in Australia, I strongly recommend Burn by Paul Collins, a comprehensive history of fire since European settlement. Forest of Ash by Tom Griffiths is also a great read on the Mountain Ash forests of Victoria, including a fairly detailed coverage of their fire history.
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby crollsurf » Sat 22 May, 2021 6:24 pm

Well said Hughmac and although this probably isn't the forum, I'm sure you could go into a lot more detail.

My naïve understanding is that prescribed burns can increase fuel loads over time, wiping out species that reduce/maintain fuel loads and replacing them with species that create even more fuel loads. I also know a lot of scientific study has been done (a study around Gosford comes to mind) but unfortunately this idea of Australia being more than just Gum trees and Kangaroos (actually a multitude of different ecologies) escapes the intellect of the our politicians who seem to decide these matters and think one size fits all.
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby GrahameR » Fri 28 May, 2021 5:06 pm

My $0.02 worth. It is imperative to distinguish between the 'old' fires and the recent and new (climate change) category of 'catastrophic' fires. So when looking at any research or discussion see what fires they are talking about. There may be(?) possibilities for minimising the damage from the more everyday traditional 'low' intensity fires (ie. less than catastrophic). But of course those at the upper end of this 'low' intensity range are at best very difficult to control and maybe even be approaching impossible to control.

But also be aware ... there is absolutely zero we can do about this new category of fires except to runaway or hide underground. Serious.

When I worked in WA in fire mgt the accepted wisdom was that the biggest fire that could be put out with water had about a 2m flame height, so when you see 30m flames coming out the top of a 50m tree ...

In the Canberra fires it was thought that bare paddocks would stop the oncoming inferno. Wrong. It didn't. (And remember fires can spot 30km so even if you have a fabulous barrier like a lake the embers can still easily fly over it.)

No current human responses can stop these new categories of fires - not fuel reduction, not water bombing, not firestick management, nothing. We gotta get used to that unpalatable fact. And that it may involve some incredibly difficult discussions about whether some residential areas should be de-populated or that houses in such areas must essentially be bunkers.

And one further note, it's also possible with climate change that this new most extreme ('catastrophic') fire weather may well be more severe than anything ever in history. Even the hardiest of eucalypts will struggle in such conditions - especially if the fires are frequent.
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby Hughmac » Fri 28 May, 2021 8:07 pm

In the Canberra fires it was thought that bare paddocks would stop the oncoming inferno. Wrong. It didn't.
In extr.eme conditions a fire generates enough heat to vaporise the organic content of the soil in apparently bare paddocks, creating combustible gasses that propagate the fire.
The Canberra fires should have resulted in criminal charges. The ACT emergency services simultaneously announced that the fires were 10km from the edge of the city, and spotting 10km ahead of the fire front, while advising residents that there was no threat. You don't need more than primary school maths to understand that these statements can't both be true. On top of that, Phil Koperberg in NSW had clearly foreseen what was about to happen, and offered the ACT all the help he could muster. In their hubris and ignorance the ACT refused this offer. Koperberg ignored this, and sent a fleet of 12 NSW RFS tankers to Canberra, who spent the afternoon sitting in their trucks listening to the unfolding disaster while ACT emergency services still refused to deploy them.
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby wildwanderer » Sun 22 Aug, 2021 7:12 am

More good news.:(

Smoke linked to increased covid cases and covid deaths.

https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/ ... nd-deaths/
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby north-north-west » Sun 22 Aug, 2021 9:48 am

wildwanderer wrote:More good news.:(
Smoke linked to increased covid cases and covid deaths.
https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/ ... nd-deaths/


Yeah, that's one of the things that concerns me with this virus. I'm easy prey for respiratory complaints and very sensitive to smoke.
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby GrahameR » Fri 10 Sep, 2021 2:08 pm

Good point NNW. The toll of the fires are only ever counted as those directly killed. The actual toll of the related deaths I seem to remember was estimated to be in the hundreds (400?). I guess like deaths indirectly due to pollution, out sight out of mind.

BTW: just imagine the outrage, the mega-bucks spent, the increasing draconian laws etc, if we were losing 400 people a year to 'terrorism'.
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby ghosta » Sun 19 Sep, 2021 8:18 am

Interesting reading here.

Just as we have antivaxers attempting to prevent society from dealing with a pandemic, we have the ignorant trying to prevent prescribed burning programmes from gaining essential momentum to deal with bushfires.

The science in both cases may be overwhelming, but is it as simple as "you cant fix stupid" or is science actually well beyond comprehension of many people through no fault of their own?
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Re: Interesting research on black summer fires.

Postby wildwanderer » Sat 16 Oct, 2021 5:46 am

Some more research on the 2020 bushfires featured on the ABC this morning.

Smoke's impact on Australians' health set to grow as climate change intensifies bushfires
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-10-16/ ... /100392142

Well worth reading the entire article. Here are some snips.

The royal commission into the 2019-20 bushfires heard the smoke from the blazes led to an extra 3,320 admissions to hospital and 429 deaths across the country.


Respiratory physicians say evidence shows long-term smoke exposure creates extra cases of childhood asthma and doctors have reported impacts on pregnant women in the region.


In the United States, the Environment Protection Authority has started pioneering a unique response to the rising threat of smoke that comes from its wildfires.....SNIP......"We got a call from the Indian Health Service physician on that reservation saying that their clinic was being overrun with people having eye and respiratory tract irritations and respiratory and chest symptoms," she said......SNIP.....Amara Holder, a combustion engineer with the EPA, said the plans involved providing information to local governments and the public on how to create clean air rooms and shelters.

"A clean air room is essentially a room in a home where you try to reduce the smoke concentration to as low as possible during the wildfire episode," she said..


Asthma Australia supports something similar and is calling for an "air smart" public health campaign like the SunSmart campaigns of the 1990s.

Its chief executive Michelle Goldman said organisations and individuals needed to develop plans for how they would deal with future smoke events.....SNIP..........Ms Goldman said Australia's "leaky" buildings also needed review.

She said authorities needed to start properly sealing public buildings so the public could find safe haven when needed.
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