Chance for NT Government to get cracking on fires

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) will increase its support to fire authorities, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud announced this morning.

 

Treck near Ormiston Gorge after last summer’s fires.

 

“The Federal Government stands ready to deploy whatever further assistance State and Territory authorities request to manage this disaster,” they said in a statement.

 

It comes as the nation is reeling from a catastrophic fire season and while the NT Government is sitting on its hands despite half the iconic West MacDonnell Ranges being ablaze for 17 days a year ago, and the current fire season being upon us.

 

Mr Morrison and Mr Littleproud said: “All three services of the ADF continue to provide significant behind the scenes support to firefighting efforts across the nation, including aerial fire reconnaissance; helicopter search and rescue; logistical support such as ground transport; providing meals for exhausted firefighters; as well as basing, re-fuelling, water re-supply, loading fire retardant and air traffic management for firefighting aircraft.

 

“Navy helicopters have helped with evacuating residents from their homes, Army crews have provided assistance with clearing fire breaks, while our Air Force bases are supporting the state Large Aerial Tanker fleet.”

 

It is clear that the NT Government has done nothing of substance in the past 12 months: There are still no arrangements for large water bombers to operate from Alice Springs despite most necessary assets being in place: A long runway, aircraft refuelling facilities, adequate water pressure and quantity and fire fighting personnel.

 

And the Parks Service still has not completed a report on the January 2019 fire and when it does, it will keep it under wraps.

 

Apart from looking after built assets such as ranger accommodation, nothing meaningful is being done to fight buffel grass which threatens to turn the jewel of the Alice region’s tourism crown into a grassland monoculture, devoid of the majestic woodlands attracting visitors from the world over.

 

The responsibility to prevent wildfires rests with the Aboriginal owners of the park and its lessees, the NT Government.

 

Meanwhile the Federal Government is holding its second enquiry in two years into bushfire precautions, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

 

The paper reports experts as saying that the inquiry should also focus on whether the Federal role in the response to natural disasters should be increased and coordinate the use of firefighting aircraft between the states.

 

The Herald’s report yesterday deals with the need to co-ordinate warnings; the role of climate change; fire fighting strategies between the current “seven different versions of emergency management” and  adopting a common language; streamlining the use of water bombers shared by the states (not including the NT) and reduction of the fuel load.

 

Related reading below:

https://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2019/02/19/our-bushfire-fighting-up-in-the-air/

https://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2019/02/07/west-macs-fire-mitigation-critically-inadequate-scientist/

https://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2019/02/11/west-macs-blaze-questions-and-sorrow/

https://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2019/09/20/fire-threat-where-are-the-big-water-bombers/

https://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2019/12/16/increased-fire-preparedness-not-the-nt-government/

 

 

 

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Erwin Chlanda, Editor


7 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Domenico Pecorari
    Posted January 12, 2020 at 9:22 am

    @ Erwin: I am not doubting the re-filling or flight times you quote, but question the appropriateness of aerial bombers to our particular bushfire conditions.
    I refer you to the ABC News story of November 15, 2019, citing the general manager of National Aerial Firefighting Centre, Richard Alder, who said that while large water bombers were useful, they were not a silver bullet. In the same story, senior researcher at CSIRO’s Department of Bushfire Behaviour and Risks, Matt Plucinski, said that, while aircraft had a number of advantages for fighting fires, they were most important in the initial attack and for fighting fires in difficult terrain, he added that more research was needed to understand the most effective use of large aircraft, what Australia might need in the future and whether the high cost was warranted.
    No doubt a lot more has been learnt over the last 2 months, but the fundamental issue of “appropriateness” remain the same.

    [ED – Thanks for your further comment, Dom. Our sources never claimed water bombers were a silver bullet and Mr Plucinski clearly confirms the point we reported in our report: The fire in the West Macs last year started “in difficult terrain” namely around Standley Chasm.]

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  2. Domenico Pecorari
    Posted January 8, 2020 at 6:29 pm

    @ Erwin. One of the most important lessons to have come out of the bushfires of the last month in south-eastern Australia is that there is no one answer to fighting fires, no silver bullet, and that each fire is best fought by means appropriate to the type of terrain, type and density of fuel load (and other factors) in which the fires occur.
    Large air tankers (DC-10s and 737s) are designed to dump a very large amount of water very quickly, so as to have an effect upon very intense hotspots, as found in densely-treed forest landscapes such as are found in our national parks of SE Australia.
    Most fires in our Central Australian region are much less intense, the majority best described as scrub or grass fires that can be adequately managed by our existing rural fire-fighters.
    Sure, our fire-fighters could always do with more and better equiped tanker trucks, but aerial tankers? At the very most, I imagine a fleet of smaller helicopters for use in inaccessible terrain, sourcing water from local waterholes, where available, may offer a better and more cost-efficient solution. They could also assist in moving firefighters into where they are required and out of dangerous situations.
    While your calculation (“5 minutes” to fill the tankers plus “five minutes” to fly out to Ormiston) makes your case seem a no-brainer, after you factor in landing and take off taxi-ing time, manoeuvring into place at the fire front, flying back to Alice, I reckon the best dump rate would be about every 40 minutes.
    Instead of arguing for a gold-plated “solution”, we’d be better off asking our local fire-fighters for advice on how to best fight our kind of fires, based upon their valuable experience, as well as consulting our indigenous community for advice on how traditional fire practices could assist in our reducing the risks.
    Now that would make for an interesting and more useful article.
    Happy New Year to you too.
    [ED – Hi Dom, a large tanker can be filled in five minutes – google our report. The flight time quoted, correctly, was not to Ormiston but to Standley Chasm where the blaze a year ago started. It was then allowed to burn for 17 days through roughly half of the national park. The opinions we quoted about the use of large water bombers are those of an expert with national and international experience.]

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  3. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted January 2, 2020 at 10:42 am

    Yes Erwin, and I read it with a great interest, but it was mainly for the countryside.
    What also concern me is the town and suburbs.
    Some yards are a fire hazard and not every street has fire hydrants and those cannot be used if the services are out of town.

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  4. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted January 2, 2020 at 9:56 am

    As fires continue to burn across the states of Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania the time has come for our so called leaders to prepare for the same eventuality.
    Do we have an emergency plan? Could council workers take notice of the residential gardens which could be a fire hazard not only for themselves and their neighbours in the same manner that they clear / cut trees hanging over a fence because it supposedly a danger for pedestrians?
    The fire and rescue services will not be able to cope with bushfires and town fires.

     

    [ED – We reported recently about the about the NT Government’s inadequate preparedness.]

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  5. Erwin Chlanda
    Posted December 27, 2019 at 8:46 pm

    Many tanks for your comment, Domenico.
    We’re happy to provide you access to our photo archive and publish comparative photos you may like to supply.
    More interesting than the 2018 report you refer to would be the report currently being prepared about the fires last summer. As we reported it is still incomplete and when finished, will be withheld from the public.
    You state: “I’m not sure that water-bombing aircraft would be very useful in fighting our type of (scrub)fires, outside of the immediate urban area.”
    The expert we spoke with had no doubt about that – see one of our earlier our reports about the subject.
    When you have clarity about that question please let us and our readers know.
    Happy New Year, Erwin Chlanda, Editor.

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  6. Domenico Pecorari
    Posted December 27, 2019 at 6:14 pm

    Readers and commentators would do well to inform themselves by reading up on the NT Government’s “Alice Springs Regional Bushfire Management Plan 2018”, as prepared by Bushfires NT and the Dept of Environment and Natural Resources.
    Central Australia presents an entirely different set of fire risk conditions to the forested areas of SE Australia.
    Local conditions require particular responses suited to our region’s ecology.
    I’m not sure that water-bombing aircraft would be very useful in fighting our type of (scrub)fires, outside of the immediate urban area.
    It would be interesting, Erwin, to re-visit and take comparative photographs one year on, to see how re-vegetation (if any) may be proceeding.

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  7. Litmus
    Posted December 27, 2019 at 8:26 am

    “It is clear that the NT Government has done nothing of substance in the past 12 months.”
    Done nothing of substance in the last three years.

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