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October 20th 2013 print

David Packham

How to make these fires our last

How many more horrendous bushfires must Australia endure before we grasp and accept the most fundamental principle of thermodynamics: the more fuel, the bigger and more intense the flame?

As NSW burns, David Packham, who has spent a professional lifetime studying bushfires, has written an open letter to state and federal policymakers. Australia need not continue to suffer the ravages of runaway flames, he writes, not if our leaders find the courage to defy green nostrums and academic theorists.

Dear Prime Minister, Premiers and Ministers,

You will appreciate my frustration that we are again watching another bushfire disaster unfold, this time in NSW. For those of us who know and understand fire in Australia, there are no surprises. What we are seeing is a rerun of the Blue Mountains fires of 1957.

During that last 50 years we have discovered how to avoid this recurring destruction of environment, people and our precious water resources, which are threatened for decades to come when fire despoils their catchment areas.

The political opportunism of the Greens, the ineffectiveness of those whose budgets depend upon regular emergencies, and the unquestioning ignorance of the media look set to make sure this deadly, avoidable farce continues.

We have in place three of the four requirements to fix this and to do a much better job of caring for the country at the same time.

First, the theory is in place. It is as certain as the discipline of thermodynamics, which begins with the irrefutable observation that the more fuel you have, the bigger the fire.

Second, the knowledge of the traditional custodians has now been accepted by most, in large part due to the work of historian Bill Gammage and the magnificent scholarship of his book, The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia. Indigenous wisdom and fire-stick expertise shaped our landscape. We have turned our backs on one of the richest gifts Aborigines might give us, if only we would heed the principles of their stewardship.

Third, 37 years of experience and success in Western Australia demonstrate not only that we can do it, but also that it makes far more sence in economic terms to prevent runaway bushfires than fail at their suppression.

The fourth requirement — political leadership — is not to be seen.

But perhaps now there is a possibility. The Prime Minister understands fires; the Minister of the Environment also has the capacity to comprehend what needs to be done. State Governments now realise the impact of this threat. The rantings of the extreme Greens are being seen at last for the insensitive, agenda-driven nonsense that it is.

I am afraid it is up to you.

We know the answers to megafires and how to care for the country. These are more important goals than a useless 5% carbon-emission reduction. I am ready to assist, as are many others, but so far there are few in leadership positions who are really listening. Instead, just a few years after the bitter lessons of Victoria’s Black Saturday inferno, we hear once again the roar of the bush exploding, followed by the tears of those who have lost everything

The time to act is NOW.

Sincerely,

David Packham OAM, MAppSci