Monday, 3 August 2020

Why people die from wildfire — failure to learn and adapt

Failure to learn from past experience e.g. the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission and adapt emergency management arrangements accordingly continues to plague Victorians, most recently the 2019/20 wildfires.

Wye River-Separation Creek, Christmas 2015

And it’s not only wildfire, examples of failure to be aware of hazardous situations, take speedy appropriate remedial action and ensure it does not occur again are legion in Victoria.

Now we have the devastating COVID-19 in Australia with its ground zero in Victoria.

I understand Emergency Management Victoria was established to lead and coordinate emergency management but now question, has it failed us?

Listening to Phillip Adams on his program Late Night Live, broadcast on Radio National on 23 June 2020, interviewing John Keane about his new book The New Despotism, I increasingly likened it to what’s occurring in Australia, particularly the 2019/20 wildfires and COVID-19 virus in Victoria.

An extract from a review by LSE Review of Books:

Grand infrastructure projects remind me of railway level crossing replacement and railway tunnels in Victoria. Political capital, currently being eroded and not only in Victoria.

In my opinion the state Premiers are all despots, some worse than others and all seeking to demonstrate to their ‘subjects’ they are looking after their best interests. But whose best interests?

Balkanising of Australia

Those who offend me the most are McGowan, WA for his rudeness and Palaszczuk, Queensland generally for on her on-again-off-again fence around Queensland and apparent disregard for businesses affected. Both of them are leading the charge to Balkanise Australia by turning their subjects against other Australians, notably Victorians. They remind me of the Pied Piper leading the rats to oblivion — they appeal to the baser instincts of us humans unable to think for ourselves and see past spin.

While the rats may not literally drown as did the Piper’s rats, we should all expect to drown in a somewhat avoidable sea of health and economic disaster. No doubt in my mind that McGowan and Palaszczuk are more interested in scoring political points rather than the best interests of all Australians. True despots of the modern era and these two are not alone.

A few notable comments from the Late Night Live recording that runs for 20 minutes for those interested:
•  At approximately 3 minutes – Adams “I've seen a bit of that around in Australia"
•  At approximately 7 minutes 30 seconds – “top down systems of power”
•  At approximately 12 minutes 40 seconds – why people in lock down shop
•  At approximately 12 minutes 55 seconds – "people complain endlessly but do nothing"

A long recording but worth listening to as Keane says things that we may recognise in ourselves or those around us.

Wildfire management

Sticking with my blog commitment to better wildfire management but acknowledging the measures necessary to contain/eliminate COVID-19, whatever, how will wildfire be managed this approaching season in Victoria to avoid a Mallacoota catastrophe elsewhere? What planning is going into dealing with:
•  Reduced availability of firefighters from interstate and overseas?
•  Reduced availability of firefighting aircraft from interstate and overseas?
•  Restricted movement of ICC people across Victoria?

Evacuation

The vexed question of evacuation, a particularly important consideration given people are currently being urged to isolate in their homes and may be reluctant to leave ... some may actually get caught and die. Then there's the potential for many to protect their homes and businesses where ember attack is the main threat, particularly in towns and settlements, but this would require a shift by the fire and emergency services from their perceived ownership of the wildfire problem. From an earlier posting, "Evacuation is the easy option, we can and must do better at protecting human life."

"BANNING, Calif. — Thousands of people were under evacuation orders Sunday after a wildfire in mountains east of Los Angeles exploded in size as crews battled flames in triple-digit heat." Large scale evacuation in a US state with a record number of coronavirus deaths for one day at 30 July 2020. Source The Washington Post.

COVID-19

With EMV involved with COVID-19 in Victoria, is attention also being given to planning for the next wildfire season taking into account lessons that should have been learned from the 2019/20 fires?

As I understand the role, the Emergency Management Commissioner has overall responsibility for emergency management in Victoria, be it wildfire or a dead whale that attracts sharks to a beach, which brings me to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the EMV "Victorian action plan for influenza pandemic" published in August 2015 I find this disturbing:

1.8 Review The action plan is current at the time of publication [August 2015] and remains in effect until modified or superseded.

The action plan will be reviewed and updated every three years or sooner if it is applied in a major emergency or exercise, or if there is a change to relevant legislation or arrangements. [my emphasis]

Almost two years to the day a review is overdue. Were there no lessons to be learned from pandemics, etc e.g. Ebola that occurred elsewhere that we could have learned from? Or relevant lessons to be learned from management of wildfire in Victoria since 2009? Note that the responsible minister is Lisa Neville.

Sub-part 3.3 Consequence management is worth reading, too. Considering the scrambling to cope with rising case numbers and deaths suggests that Department of Health & Human Services Victoria has questions to answer. A deathly dereliction of duty? Note that the responsible minister is Jenny Mikakos.

Distractions

Another distraction for EMV, the type that can take people lower on Maslow's hierarchy of needs? From The Australian, 4 August 2020 "Coronavirus: Hotel quarantine inquiry a lawyers’ picnic". Why the lawyers, do those called to appear, including EMV, have something to hide or worry that they’ll end up in a dog-eat-dog inquiry and someone may be 'thrown under a bus' by a failed responsible minister running for cover?

What then of planning for the approaching wildfire season?

Capability test, can the Emergency Management Commissioner simultaneously walk and chew gum?

As always, I would welcome your feedback.

Note that the coloured text indicates links to further information to be clicked on.

blogspot visitor counter

Monday, 17 February 2020

Wildfire management in Australia — The Howitt Society formed to bring attention to the need to deal with the "here and now"

Hello all

There are groups and governments and their responsible agencies, particularly some responsible for managing public land that are either mischievously using the wildfires earlier this year to promote climate change as the reason for the fires or using it as a cover for failing to adapt to properly address fire management — see my post " "Wildfire management in Australia — how not to run a fire service", 25 January 2020.

In an endeavor to provide a forum for those with an interest a group of concerned individuals recently formed The Howitt Society .

Briefly, The Howitt Society is a group of experienced land and fire management practitioners; scientists, foresters, anthropologists, historians, and past and current stake-holders who all share one passion – caring for country. The website is our public forum on which to post information, discuss topics and stay informed on important issues regarding land management.

To my knowledge The Howitt Society is one of very few groups presenting a contrary view to those ignoring or denying the importance of fuel reduction to mitigate the effect of wildfire on social, environmental and economic values in Australia. We have a lot of catching up to do.

For those interested the Society recently launched a Facebook public group to facilitate the exchange of relevant information and ideas.

As always, I would welcome your feedback.

Note that the coloured text indicates links to further information to be clicked on.

blogspot visitor counter

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Wildfire management in Australia — how not to run a fire service

Been a disturbing but interesting wildfire situation in Australia during the last few weeks.

Before going any further I must say that my criticism is of governments and departmental executive management and not firefighters on the ground who work their guts out, in some cases put their safety at risk and sadly some make the supreme sacrifice to protect life and property.

Plate 1
Grenfell Tower Fire, 4 June 2018
Photo: Daily Mail Australia

First, going overseas to put the subject of this posting in context, I'm drawn to the Grenfell Tower fire in London early on 14 June 2017, where at least 70 people lost their lives in the tower.

From the Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report two issues stand out to me, the contribution of fuel to the spread of fire and the performance of the London Fire Brigade. If time-poor you can listen to a video statement on the Phase 1 report by the Inquiry Chairman: Sir Martin Moore-Bick.

It took the London Fire Brigade a short few hours to get it's emergency response sorted out, but in that time at least 71 people lost their lives. And, the flammability of the cladding and other structural faults contributed to the development and spread of the fire. Sound familiar?

There's another fire service much closer to home in my case that failed in its response to major fires and neglected reducing the wildfire threat due to fuel accumulation in National Parks and government administered forests in the State of Victoria. Here, I'm referring to the Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning , otherwise known as DELWP, Victoria.

Within DELWP is Forest Fire Management . Now, I'll draw a parallel with the London Fire Brigade prior to the Grenfell Tower fire, the LFB response took a short few hours to get its response act together, whereas DELWP took days, and months to make a meaningful response to some of those outbreaks of fire, fire spread and suppression difficulty growing accordingly.

Fuel in the form of flammable cladding was very largely responsible for the intensity and spread of the Grenfell Tower fire. There are materials testing procedures and building design requirements to prevent a Grenfell Tower situation.

There can be no doubt that the intensity and spread of wildfire in Victoria alone is due to buildup of fuel in forests and National Parks and the threat it presents.

Plate 2
Dwellings on the southern side of Cassidy Drive, Kennett River
Photo: John Nicholson

Plate 3
Opposite or north of the dwellings in Plate 2
Photo: John Nicholson

Plate 4
From Kennett Road upslope towards the dwellings in Plate 2
Photo: John Nicholson

Though Plates 2, 3 and 4 were photographed in July 2017 I have revisited the sites as recently as September 2019 and am confident that the fuel hazard remains.

FUEL

Referring to the fire triangle (above), in both structural fire and wildfire environments the availability of fuel is the major contributor to fire intensity and spread. For wildfire, there is really only one practical and effective treatment, reduce the fuel!

Stay tuned.

As always, I would welcome your feedback.

Note that the coloured text indicates links to further information to be clicked on.

blogspot visitor counter

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Wildfire management in Australia — fighting a war of survival in a leadership vacuum

In my previous posting on Tuesday, 12 November 2019, I expressed my views on "the meaning of life" in the context of wildfire management.

In support of my opposition to the once-size-fits-all penchant of governments and their emergency management agencies for evacuation and the consequent adverse affects it can have on people either urged of forced to evacuate there needs to be a serious refocus on the importance of the home in managing wildfire. From John O'Donohue, Irish Poet and Philosopher:

WHERE LOVE HAS LIVED

A home is not simply a building; it is the shelter around the intimacy of a life. Coming in from the outside world and its rasp of force and usage, you relax and allow yourself to be who you are. The inner walls of a home are threaded with the textures of one's soul, a subtle weave of presences. If you could see your home through the lens of the soul, you would be surprised at the beauty concealed in the memory your home holds. When you enter some homes, you sense how the memories have seeped to the surface, infusing the aura of the place and deepening the tone of its presence. Where love has lived, a house still holds the warmth. Even the poorest home feels like a nest if love and tenderness dwell there.

When I posted the previous blog this was the fire situation in north-eastern New South Wales on Friday, 8 November 2019:

Plate 1
Friday 8 November 2019

Plate 2
1500 hrs Sunday 8 December 2019
And below, enormous fires north and southwest of Sydney:

Plate 3
1500 hrs Sunday 8 December 2019

And since 8 December its become dramatically worse around Sydney, culminating in NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian last Thursday declaring a "state of emergency".

Plate 4
0750 hrs Sunday 22 December 2019
Seems there's potential for these monsters to join in the Katoomba area

Concerning my previous discourse on the "meaning of life", not only is loss of life and property climbing, the toll now includes firefighters killed in the line duty. Then there's the threat to health on a much broader scale due to heavy smoke, particularly in the Sydney region.

How worse can it get, the smoke interfered with Big Bash cricket in Canberra last evening!!!!

To quote Professor Julius Sumner Miller, "Why is it so?" The answer is largely in the fire triangle.

And of course I'm referring to the only component that humans can control: Fuel.

If you've been following the two main themes of discussion, one view is that "climate change" is responsible for the fires, a very tenuous argument in my opinion because it does not assist with dealing with "the here and now". The other theme concerns ineffective land management i.e. lack of hazard reduction or more particularly fuel reduction burning in forests and National Parks.

From one who is in a well-informed position to comment, listen to what President of the (NSW) Volunteer Fire Fighters Association Mick Holton has to say about wildfires rampaging across NSW, particularly about land management or maybe I should say mismanagement.

Ultimately on your head Premier Berejiklian, and your head Premier Andrews for the second catastrophe in East Gippsland this year.

Plate 5
1505 hrs Sunday 22 December 2019
East Gippsland fires — how long before two or more join?

MANAGING A CRISIS

While thinking about a headline I was tempted to refer to the Prime Minister's much-derided "thoughts and prayers", but what else does he have to offer that will deal effectively with the "here and now"? What advice has the PM been offered by the so-called experts e.g. AFAC, the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC or at an emergency meeting of COAG?

Then for a few minutes the headline “adapt or die” — death in the broader context of the harmful effect of the fires on community physiological and psychological health, the economy and environmental values.

Concerning the call by many to declare a "national emergency", what would that entail and how does the PM do that when the States are responsible for wildfire prevention and suppression and can't even agree on how to manage water in the Murray-Darling system.

'The monster': a short history of Australia's biggest forest fire

THE WAY FORWARD

With the approval of the renowned International Association of Wildland Fire, a September 2019 statement on wildfire and the future:

Prime Minister Morrison, it is a national emergency due to war declared on us by wildfire, with climate change adherents predicting that it will only get worse. Time for strategic leadership from the adults that provides immediate and ongoing wildfire mitigating solutions — carpe diem Prime Minister, time to kick arse and deal with a homeland security threat and not abandon us to recalcitrant State governments or an unelected activist.

Stay tuned.

As always, I would welcome your feedback.

Note that the coloured text indicates links to further information to be clicked on.


blogspot visitor counter

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Wildfire and the meaning of life

Wildfire, with so much burning here in Australia and in the USA what does the future hold?

I started preparation of this blog during a period of relative calm a few days prior to the hellish fire situation in north-eastern New South Wales on Friday, 8 November 2019, but kept being distracted by a worsening fire situation.

Plate 1
1910 hrs Friday 8 November 2019

Plate 2
1313 hrs Saturday 9 November 2019

Following wildfires across the state of Victoria in 2009 that took 173 lives — how many other lives were shortened in the aftermath of the fires, an issue I'll delve into later — the government established the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission to investigate the circumstances of those fires and make such recommendations as considered appropriate.

Protection of human life

Of the Commission’s 67 recommendations and other writings, to me the following quote stands out:

This reference to the protection of human life appears in several other places in the Commission's report and recommendations. The land use planning element of DELWP, and elsewhere in Victoria's emergency management literature there is reference to the "primacy of life".

Considering the loss of life and peoples homes and livelihoods in the current NSW and Queensland fires how is human life affected? I hear the emergency management agencies and governments congratulating themselves that there was no loss of life or it was minimised — "officially" those unfortunates who did lose their lives will probably carry the blame for their own demise i.e. they were warned.

The meaning of life

Surely there's more to it than simply saving their skins and what they stand up in. To me there is, which brings me to my heading, "Wildfire and the meaning of life."

I'm firmly of the view that driving people to evacuate, in many cases where media photos and video shows unburnt tree canopies and in a couple of cases unburnt shrubs next to burning lost houses, condemns many to be lost to ember attack due to no one being in attendance to extinguish those embers.

I've recently done a lot of reading concerning the meaning of life and found the following two examples useful:

One definition, offered by well-being researcher Laura King and colleagues, says:

And, the following quote from John O'Donohue, Irish Poet and Philosopher that came to my attention earlier today and for this I thank my cousin, Reverend Peter:

WHERE LOVE HAS LIVED

A home is not simply a building; it is the shelter around the intimacy of a life. Coming in from the outside world and its rasp of force and usage, you relax and allow yourself to be who you are. The inner walls of a home are threaded with the textures of one's soul, a subtle weave of presences. If you could see your home through the lens of the soul, you would be surprised at the beauty concealed in the memory your home holds. When you enter some homes, you sense how the memories have seeped to the surface, infusing the aura of the place and deepening the tone of its presence. Where love has lived, a house still holds the warmth. Even the poorest home feels like a nest if love and tenderness dwell there.

The following three photographs are of the remains of a house in Wye River a victim of the 2015 Christmas Day fire. Noting the collectables still standing, love had obviously gone into the garden and no doubt its interior. Knowing a little about the owner it was certainly more than just another house, it was a home with lots of memories.

Plate 3

Plate 4

Plate 5

A few days ago I heard NSW Premier Berejiklian mention her concern for people traumatised by the fires including words to the effect that we should look out for them and help where we can. No wonder people are traumatised worring about their homes, animals and other things near and dear, and simply fear of wildfire itself.

Plate 6
2030 hrs Tuesday 12 November 2019

Finally, referring to my earlier question "how many other lives were shortened in the aftermath of the 2009 fires" I wonder what the longer term hidden cost will be with mental health issues or suicides out of the current NSW and Queensland fires.

Evacuation is the easy option, we can and must do better at protecting human life.

Note that the coloured text indicates links to further information to be clicked on.

blogspot visitor counter

Friday, 20 September 2019

Bushfire ‒ "Don't Burn our Future"

An opportune day to prepare this posting as young people and others strike across the world demanding that governments take action against climate change or global warming if you prefer.

The following placard was carried by one of the Gippsland protestors ‒ I wonder if she realises how widely that message applies.

A galvaniser of young people to involve themselves is Greta Thunberg, a Swedish student. You may be aware that Greta declined flying to the US, instead choosing to sail across the Atlantic to New York, asserting that air travel contributes to climate change.

On Saturday, 7 September 2019, I posted Wildfire in Australia — dealing with the new normal. The key message in that posting:

I've been reading of politicians and emergency services leaders describing the recent fire activity in Queensland and New South Wales as "unprecedented". As to the accuracy of this description, to me that's no excuse.

Queensland in particular, why did the emergency management agencies not see this coming? Didn't they have people monitoring the drought factor; seek advice from the Bureau of Meteorology to learn of the potential for "unprecedented" extreme fire weather conditions based climate change?

Again, the question at the end of my 7 September posting, "How then to deal with the "new normal"? Clearly thinking outside the box is required to reduce environmental, social and economic loss from bushfire across Australia, but with their reliance on going it alone and water/fire retardant bombing is that a "bridge to far"?

We have nothing to be smug about in Victoria, the public land manager DELWP has little to be proud of in meeting its responsibility for fire management ‒ prevention and suppression ‒ in Gippsland last summer. What was the otherwise avoidable damage done to the environment as a result of those fires, including harmful products of combustion released into the atmosphere?

And, Minister Lily D'Ambrosio, who has multiple portfolios involved, has since received what some may consider is a hefty pay increase. So much for ministerial responsibility and accountability.

Finally, the Emergency Management Commissioner has some significant challenges if social, economic and environmental loss is to be substantially reduced in a climate increasingly conducive to the outbreak and spread of bushfire in Victoria.

Note that the coloured text indicates links to further information to be clicked on.

blogspot visitor counter

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Wildfire in Australia — dealing with the new normal

Or bushfire if you prefer.

On Friday, 7 December 2018, I posted "Wildfire management — what's normal today?”

A couple of extracts from that posting:

And here we go again, wildfires destroying homes and business and threatening lives and more property in New South Wales and Queensland.

Plate 1
Wolgan Road, Lidsdale, NSW, 6 September 2019
Photo: Chris Lithgow

Chris Lithgow has kindly allowed me to use his video of the fire in Lidsdale that shows an example of wildfire crossing land.

No doubt the social, economic and environmental losses accruing from these fires and fires yet to occur before the wildfire season or summer is over will be enormous and we've not yet seen the contribution Victoria is likely to add to the losses.

I continue to see governments and others claiming that climate change i.e. global warming is responsible for these fires, but not helping the broader community better prepare to withstand wildfire and its loss potential. By this I mean the forcing or encouraging people to leave their homes to agency firefighters and run the risk that they won't be defended due to lack of firefighters available for this task. I wonder how many of the homes lost will have succumbed to ember attack.

How then to deal with the "new normal"?

Note that the coloured text indicates links to further information to be clicked on.

blogspot visitor counter