Regarding the issue of firefighters standing by and watching trees …

Comment on Spot a tree? Chop it down! by Rowan Bean.

Regarding the issue of firefighters standing by and watching trees burn.
I know these firefighters personally. The problems they face with regards to burning trees are not understood by many observers.
There are MANY trees in and outside of town which have been saved because of the firefighters’ efforts. These firefighters are not instructed to stand by and watch trees burn by any one or any authority.
But they do, and when they do, they elect to do so for a number of reasons.
Depending on how long it takes for the fire to be reported has an impact on the future of the trees concerned. If an area of grass is burning and it is against a tree, it can quite quickly set fire to the tree.
If that fire can be put out quickly, and the external burning of the tree extinguished early on, the tree can and is saved. But note, there are many trees in many areas and these grass fires can impact on quite a number at one time.
It is a time consuming process to extinguish the grass before then conducting the even more time consuming process of extinguishing one tree. These gums trees have many nooks and crannies where persistent coals can exist even after many hundreds of liters of water are put on the tree.
Sometimes it is a reflection on the individual firefighter or their supervisor that this process is not done properly. Sometimes it is a physical impossibility to actually get to the burning parts of the tree which can be quite high up.
Sometimes it is a matter of resources. The firefighting equipment does not have an unlimited water supply. They often have to stop, leave the area that is burning to refill their tanks before resuming.
This is more evident when they use the small 4×4 vehicles to access the fires in the middle of the river bed. The big tankers just cannot get into those areas without being stuck. All these things slow down or prevent the extinguishing of these tree fires.
This then leads on to the treatment of those tress which have been burning a long time. In many cases, this leads to the tree burning on the inside, which they call ‘chimneying’.
Trees old and young can be hollow inside and the fire can quite quickly get inside the tree and start this process. The area inside burns, the smoke exits through one or many knot holes or broken branches, this draws more air in, fans the coals, and the whole process accelerates until it is burning literally like a blast furnace.
And these trees are rarely salvageable. If you cannot get water to all the nooks and crannies INSIDE the “blast furnace” in the tree, it does not matter how many thousands of liters of water are poured over in or around the tree. Sometimes, if they really try, they can get to all the fire. A lot of times they can slow down the process, but a small coal inside the tree will inevitably regain its foothold on the tree and it will again start chimneying.
I am told this happens quite regularly. Again, some more vigorous or effective application of water MAY save a tree, but mostly, if they are chimneying, they are doomed. That is why they stand and watch, or they leave it and go on to another tree or another fire or emergency elsewhere. And then a doomed tree becomes a serious hazard as it can collapse at any time which would have dire consequences on any one walking by or simply being near it.
Quite a lot of times the firefighter will take the opportunity to reduce the fuel load in a area by letting a small fire expand and consume a whole area of grass. Sometimes they help it by lighting more of it up themselves. ‘
“Some one has lit it, so we might as well let it all burn, saves us coming back later when they (inevitably) relight it” is the thought process. And unfortunately, some firefighters are not as proactive as they should be and don’t dampen down around each and every tree. It shouldn’t happen, but it does.
I hope this helps the discussion.

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