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Bushfires and the environment

Bushfires and the environment

– by Les Taylor

Prologue

As we approach the summer months, a major issue that residents of the City of Campbelltown will need to be prepared for is the threat of the bushfire. Dry grass and loose leaves should be regularly cleared from properties, and gutters need also to be cleared so as to get rid of sources of dry tinder that might fuel an approaching fire. Campbelltown City Council and the NSW Rural Fire Service for the Macarthur region place greater emphasis on risk management and risk mitigation than merely responding to fires after they break out. The purpose of bushfire planning is to protect life, land, buildings, and natural heritage. The Macarthur Bushfire Management Committee, which is comprised of representatives from emergency services utilities, and wildlife management, and draws on different expertise sets in order to eliminate or mitigate the risk of bushfires before they arise.

Ecological Impact

How the risk of bushfire is to be treated depends on the level of perceived risk. Community education, land clearing, or specialised training to firefighting authorities. Another important body is the Department of Environment and Climate change, which manages national parks in New South Wales. <br />Bushfires generate large volumes of smoke and ash, increased levels of carbon dioxide, and can create significant damage to the ozone layer. Vegetation communities can be burned out, often with the result that years may be needed for the recovery of those communities. Burnt out forestry settings may also attract feral animals who may further damage the forest. It needs also to be noted that while bushfires are a highly destructive force, they can also facilitate certain processes of the natural ecosystem. They can assist the germination process, by triggering seed pods so that they release their seeds into a fertile ash bed and clear undergrowth in order for seedlings to flourish. Many plants in New South Wales forests have adapted to environments periodically consumed by fire. The term fire regime is the term given to describing the time that it takes for a particular species of plant to recover from a bushfire event. Should the fire frequency change, it may result in species of plants developing that best adapt to the resulting fire regime. In an environment where fires take place too frequently, some species may never reach maturity, and in environments where fire takes place less frequently, some seeds may grow old in the soil and die before a fire can act to germinate them.

FIRE MANAGEMENT

Management of fire in an effective manner is essential in the New South Wales landscape. Relevant stakeholders in bushfire control and suppression include the Department of Environment and Climate Change, the NSW Rural Fire Service, and the NSW Fire Brigades. Important fire management responsibilities include protecting life and property, developing response plans with combat agencies and communities, managing fire regimes to foster biodiversity, and ensuring that all relevant stakeholders are aware of and are in a position to respond to threats of bushfire should such a threat eventuate. Back burning Hazard reduction activities are often carried out by or under the control of combat agencies. In winter months, it will often be the case that managed fires will be lit for the purposes of reducing the relevant fuel hazard. This process is often referred to as back burning. There must be control lines established in order that the fire be contained. As well as this, the managed fire will be set at a given intensity in order that it can be quickly controlled if need be yet at the same time achieve the objectives of eliminating fuel hazards and managing biodiversity and the impact on native flora and fauna. This strategy can also be used to consume fuel in the path of a major fire. Often done at night or in cooler conditions in order that it can be managed effectively.

Fire Access Routes

Within many national parks and state forests, access roads known as fire trails are established in order that fire fighting vehicles and equipment can be deployed if need be. Roads and trails also are important in that they serve as control lines around which fire suppression activities can be conducted.

Suppression chemicals

Ammonium compounds and foams may be used to decrease the flammability of fuels or to increase the effectiveness of water as an extinguishing agent. Ammonium phosphate or ammonium sulphate may be applied from aircraft in order to limit the spread of low intensity fire. Foams may be added to water in order to expand water droplets, to facilitate longer contact with burning fuel, and to have greater penetrative force into the fuel layer.

The use of some fire management operations may compromise the efforts to conserve some types of native species. Hence decisions to use certain types of chemicals in fire management operations need to be balanced against the impact that such chemicals may have on flora and fauna.

RECOVERY PROCESSES

When a region is recovering from the effects of bushfires, a number of new issues arise. These include the rescue of distressed wildlife, rehabilitation of landscapes, and infrastructure restoration. Over time, all landscapes will recover. However, feral weeds will always pose threats in this setting, as will feral animals. Soil erosion work will always be necessary, particularly in areas in proximity to river and wetland ecosystems. Replants of vegetation will usually comprise local indigenous native plants. Finally, the information gained from successfully combating a major fire is also valuable. Debriefs with other agencies, neighbouring residents, can facilitate the charting of how the danger was addressed, which strategies worked, and which strategies could have been executed more proficiently. Overall, it can strongly be urged that fire is a fact of life in Australian bush. Community education assists communities to recognising situations where fire hazards may arise and to take preventative action accordingly. Human behaviour has generally been the cause of most major bushfires, whether deliberate or accidental. Park fire bans and total fire bans are important tools during any bushfire season. With this fact in mind, it follows that human behaviour ought to be regarded as the starting point when embarking on any fire prevention exercise.

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