Raise the wildfire profile

by Des Menz posted in Landscape and Biodiversity

29 February 2016

An article on The Conversation Low flammability plants could help our homes survive bushfires

suggested that plants whose leaves contain moisture (including succulents) could provide an important strategy for reducing the impacts from bushfires. Plant flammability, or lack of it, is an obvious characteristic when choosing plants in gardens and around homes. But what about other types of fire, the landscape wildfire now becoming a greater risk in cropland regions?

Missing the essential link

It was in 1996 when doing a Permaculture Design Course that my eyes were opened to fire retardant trees and shrubs as protection for built structures. It seemed obvious at the time that every farm and small rural property should be designed around fire risk, but as the years passed it became evident that farms and farming landscapes were exposed to high fire risk. Much more that, they were exposed to very high wildfire risk.

Barren, devegated farming landscapes, with huge crop residues as fuel, is a recipe for disaster.

The alarm bells sounded for me in November 2015 when three events happened in quick succession. The cropland wildfire north of Esperance on November 15, the Pinery cropland wildfire north of Adelaide on November 25, and the release of the South Australian government’s Climate Change Strategy on November 29. This strategy had not one word to say about the lack of landscape resilience in the face of cropland wildfires.

The Esperance and Pinery wildfires remined me of another horror event, the Wangary cropland/landscape wildfire of 2005 on Lower Eyre Peninsula.

It is stated in many reports in the public domain that higher temperatures and declining rainfall as a result of climate change will adversely impact on grain cropping regions throughout southern Australia (i.e. Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales). We are now witnessing earlier crop ripening, greater crop fuel loads due to changed farming practices, but no strategy about how to attenuate the next cropland wildfire disaster.

The rise of a book

This is why I decided to write a book - “Cropland Wildfire Wipeout!”  - to try to get some changes about landscape resistance, re-designing farm layouts, farm infrastructure protection, and more. One crucial element is the introduction into the farm system of plants that contain leaf salt, because plants like salt bush are fire retardant. Another is introducing wide vegetation barriers from 100m to 300m wide into barren landscapes and wide vegetation barriers around farmhouses, sheds, and other infrastructure. The primary reason is to slow the wind down, because in all wildfire events, high speed winds are the accomplice of wildfire. 

These vegetation barriers will also capture embers, the greatest source of the destruction of houses in bushfire events.

So, in Australia there is an increasing risk of further wildfires in croplands unless immediate on-ground action is taken. Plants will play an essential role in such action, but I suspect that this type of strategy is as unfashionable as a landline telephone, and will go the way of the carbon pricing mechanism in 2013, dumped as it was by a government that is captive of the coal industry. There will be those who believe in it, those who don’t, and yet others who couldn’t care two hoots. They all sit on their hands. 

Meanwhile, the next cropland wildfire wipeout is waiting to happen!

More on the book’s release will come soon.

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