The area described below are examples of places in southern Western Australia where the bushfire risks to life and property are very high. Several factors contribute to the high level of risk, but the most common factor is high fuel loads. In addition to the potential impacts on landholders in these areas, failure to control undergrowth under powerlines and the buildup of litter around powerline poles, means that a wildfire would have disastrous effects on essential electrical services and infrastructure.
Currently, there are three examples shown here: The Darling Range Regional Park, overgrown roads in the Perth Hills and a perilous situation at Dunsborough.
1. Darling Range Regional Park: A Health Risk!
DEC’s Naturebase website makes much of its Healthy Parks: Healthy People program. It all sounds very fine, but in reality it’s just another spin job. We all know what a spin job is: the concealment of the real situation by a cloud of plausible verbiage. The regional park system is a typical example of spin. It all sounds such a good thing, but how does it square with reality?
The Darling Range Regional Park (DRRP) is supposed to provide a natural area for recreation. The DEC web site provides a lengthy list of the benefits to the community. It is also supposed to “protect biodiversity”, something that is taken by the community in general as an unquestioned good thing.
People living “among the gum trees”in the Perth Hills region no doubt generally support the DRRP because it means they can depend on the bush around them staying that way, and not be developed into housing subdivisions. That’s fair enough, and it’s a very attractive place to live, but those same people do not have sufficient appreciation of the threat that the DRRP poses to their lives and property.
The basic problem is that DEC’s focus (and to some degree that of CALM before it) has always been on acquiring the real estate to incorporate into the regional park system. Their approach has been to get the land, lock it up and leave it, in line with their fundamentalist protectionist philosophy.
The DRRP is a good example of this.Virtually nothing has been done to manage it actively. The greatest failing has been to neglect fire management requirements.
Large areas of the DRRP adjoining private land carry very heavy fuels, in the range 16-19 tonnes/ha of ground litter with frequent large patches of moribund shrub species that will flare in a wildfire. Ground litter of 8 tonnes/ha is sufficient to develop a crown fire.This ensures that if a wildfire starts under even moderately severe weather conditions, heavy property losses are inevitable. There are almost no firebreaks adjoining private land. Good examples are the bush along Ryecroft Road and at the southern end of Hardey Road in Glen Forrest.
This is along Ryecroft Road February 2009, about 80 metres from houses
While the volunteer Bush Fire Brigade has done some useful burning recently, e.g., along the Railway Heritage Trail, these areas in the DRRP are too large for them to handle. DEC is the only agency with the necessary resources, but has done virtually nothing about the problem.
Hills residents should not tolerate this situation. DEC’s inaction is putting your homes and lives at risk.
* Pester the DEC office at Mundaring about the issue.
* Contact your local member of Parliament and ask him/her to pressure DEC to commence a program of annual fuel reduction burning in the DRRP that will significantly reduce the risks to householders.
* Don’t accept the status quo!
This what is likely to happen in the Hills if fuels are not controlled.
2. Another Perth Hills Hot Spot
A short drive around the Hills area will show that there are many places that would be very dangerous in a severe wildfire. Quite apart from the heavy fuel loads on many private property blocks and on the scattered blocks of forest that constitute the Darling RangeRegional Park (which would support a Victorian style disaster), there are many examples of overgrown roads that would make escape from a bushfire almost impossible.
Here is just one example, below. It is Moola Road, Glen Forrest. You can see how heavy shrubbery grows right up tothe road surface, almost touching the sides of a vehicle at one point. If this was on fire, a vehicle could not escape the flames. This was a crucial issue in the 2009 Victorian fires.
The bush either side of this spot has not been burned for over 10 years. Who is responsible for maintaining the road verges in a state that would allow vehicles to escape in the event of a severe wildfire? Just now this is a death trap. It cannot be allowed to remain that way.
And there is another thing. There is a powerline situated down the right hand side of this same road in the photo. At the very least, the poles will burn down, but the wires might also be melted. Not cheap to replace, not to mention the inconvenience of cessation of power for anyone living down this road (provided they survived thefire). One might expect that Western Power would have an interest in minimising the risk of damage to their infrastructure, but do they?
Each Shire Council in the Perth Hills region needs to identify dangerous places like this and commence a program to progressively eliminate them. What they really need to do is develop a comprehensive program to remove fire hazards like this. In part it will involve periodically removing the shrubbery along roads like this to enable safe escape in the event of a fire, but mainly it will involve reducing fuel loads so that the intensity of any wildfire is low, so that it can be successfully (and safely) fought.
Since there is a jumble of private and public land in the region, the Shires need to make sure that DEC plays its part in increasing the amount of burning it does on the DRRP blocks. A coordinated program is what is required. It’s up to the Shires to take the initiative. It’s their ratepayers who are at risk.
3. A Dunsborough Hot Spot!
The map below shows the location of houses near the popular holiday resort (and retirement centre) of Dunsborough, Western Australia. The red squares are the houses,marked on a recent aerial photograph. That the area is heavily forested is clear from the photograph. What is not apparent from the photograph is the heavy ground fuels in the area.
It is just this sort of situation where the houses, and householders, are at grave risk in the event of a wildfire under even moderately severe weather conditions. This was tragically demonstrated in Victoria in February 2009.
In addition, it can be seen that many houses are well off roads, and a fleeing householder will have to run the gauntlet of fire along narrow access tracks – a highly dangerous thing to do.
In situations like this, landholders must take the initiative to protect themselves, by arranging cooperative fuel reduction burning programs and carry out burns on a rotational basis over the whole area. Shire Councils and FESA have a duty to support such cooperative burning programs. There is no doubt whatever, that a properly organised and maintained fuel reduction program would provide good protection for householders in this area.
The design of some roads, having dead ends, is also a dangerous factor in a wildfire. In fleeing a fire in thick smoke it would be easy to become disoriented and turn the wrong way, towards the dead end, and so become trapped by the flames.