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Monday, 14 September 2009

Bundeena Bushfire 1994
With the official bushfire season just weeks away one long term resident questions if enough has been done to prepare Bundeena Maianbar for it.

By Phil Clarke

Bundeena Bushfire and Emergency Issues - Discussion Paper

March 2009

The argument    3
Ten Principles    3
Bundeena’s geography    4
Threatened zone    5
Lack of southern firebreak    5
Eric Street firebreak – the Eastern boundary    6
Clearance needed    6
Widening of fire break    6
Undergrowth clearance for 500 m    7
Wire fencing    7
Hydrants, water sprinklers    7
The Southern Boundary Of Bundeena    8
New Dangers Caused by increased road use and visitors    8
NPWS Bonnie Vale Developments and Great Pacific Drive campaign    8
Consequences in bushfire    8
Emergency services an election issue    9
Water supply    9
Government responsibility    9
Jurisdiction And Monitoring    9
Research    11
Effect of deer culling    11
Patterns of Aboriginal burning    11
Markers for hazard reduction    12
Conclusion    12

Note: the comments in this Discussion Paper are likely to be also applicable to Maianbar and the author is happy for those who are more familiar with Maianbar geography to use this paper in arguments for similar hazard reduction around Maianbar.
The argument

(1)    Our society interferes with the natural patterns of burning, and arguably with the way in which Aboriginal peoples managed this land, by putting out bush fires where possible, including in the Royal National Park in which the villages of Bundeena and Maianbar are located. 

(2)    The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) also restricts the removal of vegetation from the Royal National Park (RNP) so there is no reduction of fuel load in the RNP through people taking dead wood from the RNP.

(3)    Clearance of the bush around Bundeena and Maianbar has been minimal since the last major bushfire in 1994.

(4)    The practice of routinely extinguishing fires without substituting an artificial clearance program – be it by manual clearance or controlled burning - has  led to, and will always lead to, dangerously high levels of fuel build up  within the RNP itself and especially around residential areas such as  Bundeena and Maianbar.

(5)    The Victorian experience is that the zone of fatal heat radiation can be up to 50 metres.

(6)    In the light of that experience it is essential that both burning off and clearance of the bush around Bundeena and Maianbar take place as a matter of urgency.  Other protective measures such as installation of sprinklers and wire fencing should also be considered.

(7)    The fact that, for hazard reduction to occur, agreement must be reached between several different government departments should not mean that the NSW State Government avoids either moral or legal responsibility for the lives of Bundeena and Maianbar residents.  The State Government must take responsibility for ensuring that such burning off and clearance takes place.

(8)    The present system whereby the control of fuel buildup within five hundred metres of human habitation is dominated by  NPWS does not work to protect residents of Bundeena and Maianbar.  In practice it places a misguided and dysfunctional conservation agenda before the human safety which is supposed to be the parks stated primary purpose. 

(9)    The fire safety of his zone should be under the control of the fire brigades with NPWS having only an advisory role and no right to veto clearances considered by the fire brigades to be necessary

Ten Principles

1. Method Irrelevant to Hazard reduction effect:  In the reduction of hazard it is generally immaterial to the safety of threatened suburbs as to whether hazards are removed through burning, manually, through mechanical means such as brush cutters and tractors or a combination of all three.

2. Who chooses the method?  The choice of methods should be in the hands of emergency services on the basis of advice given by environmental experts and scientists.

3. Human Safety comes first:  The principle expressed in the draft fire management plan for the Royal National Park that human safety takes first priority in all decisions should be rigidly adhered to.

4. What is natural?  That the concept natural burning cycle of the land is both an important one and a controversial one in terms of its true nature in that the flora of the land has been vastly affected by frequent aboriginal burning over tens of thousands of years and their making extinct of large numbers of herbivore species as a food source in the millennia following their arrival.

5. Should we extinguish fires?  That the human extinguishing of fires is sensible and reasonable on safety grounds and may be sensible on environmental grounds.

6. Does extinguishing fires interfere with ‘natural’ cycles?  That the human extinguishing of fires interferes with “natural burning cycles” and that as a result, for environmental reasons, scientists may validly consider that controlled burning is an advisable and even necessary substitute for fires that have been artificially extinguished.

7.  Putting out fires increases fuel build up: That the excessive build up of fuels in areas such as the Royal National Park is caused in part or in whole by the human extinguishing of park fires.

8.  Protecting wildlife: That wildlife should be protected as much as possible in all clearing operations aimed at hazard reduction.

9.  Hazard reduction can protect wildlife: That properly conducted hazard reduction can protect wildlife by removing or reducing threats of major universal high temperature conflagrations from which all escape is cut off.

10. Responsibility for lack of hazard reduction: That decisions not to reduce hazards, for whatever reasons, must be decisions for which named persons take responsibility. Such decision should be subject to the normal legal process in relation to matters such as negligence, maladministration, liability for loss of property and culpable killing.

Part 2 - Bundeena’s geography, Threatened zone, Lack of southern firebreak (click to view)

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