Fires have ravaged Greece, and are still burning California. Gippsland has had a large bushfire in the dead of winter, and NSW has had its earliest ever total fire ban day. We’re bracing for another serious fire season.
If you have the nerve, a bit context on this contentious issue can be found in ‘California burning’, a long and provocative article in the New York Review of Books. The article can be found here. Familiar themes abound in the international story: poor forest management, climate change, arson, flammable weeds, unwise urban development at the forest interface, poor understanding of fire ecology. Here’s a sample:
‘In the United States, exurban and rural property development in the wildland-urban interface has been, perhaps, the final straw—or at least another lighted match tossed on the pile. Most wildfires that threaten or damage communities are caused by humans. Campfires, barbecues, sparks from chainsaws, lawnmowers, power lines, cars, motorcycles, cigarettes—the modes of inadvertent ignition in a bone-dry landscape are effectively limitless. Let’s say nothing of arson. Houses and other structures become wildfire fuel, and vulnerable communities hugely complicate forest management and disaster planning. In his panoramic 2017 book Megafire, the journalist (and former firefighter) Michael Kodas observes pithily that “during the century in which the nation attempted to exclude fire from forests, [those forests] filled with homes.”’
Interestingly, the article suggests that old growth forest is more resilient to fire than the even aged stands resulting from clear felling, and notes that the current US administration’s policy is to respond to fire with more logging, ‘which may well result in less resilient forests and, of all things, more fire.