Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bushfire damage

I drove along the Hume Highway going to and from Albury over the past two days following a teaching assignment there. The fire damage along the highway runs for nearly 20 km north from about the 50 km point north of Melbourne. It is striking that, for 12 km, the fire followed the centre nature strip along the highway - in places it seemed (I couldn't be sure) that this strip helped spread the fire*. The fire obviously raced along gullies and tree-lined ridges.

Pine plantations and areas of native forest are completely destroyed over large areas. I also noticed that, even in large paddocks with only a few very isolated trees, the fire destroyed all vegetation. Sparseness of trees didn't help stem the ferocity of this monster.

Coming back into Melbourne I detoured via Whittlesea to the area west of the fire centre at Kinglake. I admit feeling ambivalent about what some might describe as a ghoulish interest but the truth is I was interested in seeing what had happened - among other things to valued bushwalking and birdwatching sites in Kinglake NP. I got about 4 km from Kinglake - I didn't get to the Park - when I was turned back by police. Entry into Kinglake will be for locals only for the next 2 weeks at least.

The scene in the area west of Kinglake is nightmarish although words can't express what is there. The whole area looks as if it has been intensely 'baked' and 'burnt'. There is still a smell of ash in the air. It is more than a fire - its a severe 'scorching'. There is not a blade of grass or any understory in much of the burnt out areas. Blackened tree trunks grow from blackened soils and stand starkly in landscapes that stretch out for miles over the Yarra Ranges. The fire was clearly very hot but also very extensive. Destroyed houses - one tragically that I saw just got caught by the extreme southern end of the fire - look like bomb sites. I have read exactly this description in the media but didn't intuit the reality. Chimney stakes stand but the houses themselves have been blasted to pieces. Farm sheds have been warped and scorched in the heat.

Again I was struck by the way the fire front charged across largely cleared farmland areas burning everything in its path. There were no simple escapes.

Driving through these areas is an emotional experience. You can sense - at least to some degree - the horror and fear that those living in these communities must have felt.

* A dark side to wildlife corridors. Not only do they spread unwanted 'weed' species rapidly they promote the spread of forest fires. Yet maintaining corridors provides insurance against climate change shocks and limits island biogeographic extinctions.


Francis Xavier Holden said...

I drove back along there from Canberra last week. I thought that a fair bit of the burning along the highway looked very much like pre-emptive fire breaks burnt deliberately - perhaps while the fires were around. Some of it looked to neat and controlled to be an accident - say the bits in between the up and down lanes f'rinstance.

On another matter - in Canberra I came upon some White Winged Choughs (I think) - fascinating - I'd never seen or heard of them before. Are there any around Melbourne?

hc said...

If the burnoff was deliberate on the Hume I'd be surprised. It was very destructive.

I've seen White wing choughs in a reserve in Doncaster. Generally a bit further north than this. Common around Nagambie.

They form mobs and kidnap the kids from other mobs to increase the size and power of their mobs. Interesting birds.