Lesson

Bush Fires

As you may or may not know, bushfires in Australia are relatively prevalent. They happen every single year. They’re always on the news during the dry and hot seasons are. So, let’s go through a little bit about bushfires. Bushfires are a frequent and important part of Australian climate and its environment so, prevalent in Australia due to the mostly hot and dry climate that we have here in Australia and fires occur on an annual basis, every single year, primarily during summer or during the dry season up in the North of Australia, and the impact is extensive. It happens all over the place to bushland, to forests and even to suburbia where people have decided to build houses around forested areas around or in forested areas.

So, although on one hand they have the potential to cause extensive property damage and even loss of human life, on the other hand bushfires are an important part of Australian ecosystems and the biology and life cycles of many native flora and fauna, for example, positive effects of bushfires include:

  • Heating up the soil, cracking seed coats and triggering the germination of many plant seeds,
  • Triggering woody seed pods held in the canopy to open up and release their seeds onto a fresh and fertile ash bed below, and this happens with Banksia plants,
  • Clearing thick under-storey in forested areas to reduce competition for plant seedlings. So, those seeds when they land in that ash bed are more able to grow quickly because of the ash as nutrients, but they also have less competitors because they have been burnt away from bushfires.
  • Also, encourage new growth that provides food for many animals.
  • And they also create hollows in logs and trees that can be used by animals for nesting and for shelter.
  • And aboriginals in Australia often light bushfires, which is a practice called ‘traditional burning’, and they do this in order to: make access easier through thick and prickly vegetation, to maintain a pattern of vegetation, to encourage new growth and also attract game for hunting. So, they want to attract animals in to eat the new vegetation so that they can hunt these animals. And they also do it to encourage the development of useful food plants for cooking, warmth, signalling, and even spiritual reasons.

So, this practice was done for so long more than 40,000 years that many ecosystems in Australia have adapted to this and they rely on regular fires lit by humans in order to thrive.

That said, there are many negative effects of fires, which include:

  • The damage done to vegetation in communities such as rainforests, where it can often take hundreds of years for rain forests to recover from a fire.
  • They can kill and injure plants and animals.
  • They can cause erosion and the subsequent sedimentation of creeks and wetlands, which is where the erosion goes into the water and it decimates the local flora and fauna. It makes it hard for them to survive them.
  • It can also open up areas to the impacts of weeds and feral animal invasion. So, where trees and plants and everything had been burnt away, weeds can come in and live there, animals that have been feral and are introduced into Australia like rabbits, foxes, they can more easily get in too, and also, humans suddenly now have access to these places and they can vandalise these places as well.

How bushfires in Australia are managed? If you come to Australia, you may sometimes see practices such as back burning and prescribed burning taking place in places like national parks and other forested areas around the country near suburbs and this is usually outside the bushfire season. It’s usually done then when they set fires to the under-storey, to grasslands, etc. in order to burn away excess wood, excess grass, etc., to make it safer and easier to control during summer and also communities as well as individual households in these areas usually have plans, they’ll be encouraged to have bushfire action plans so that if a bushfire should occur, they know exactly what they need to do in order to get out safely to evacuate the area.

So, let’s chat about the worst bushfire in Australian history. This bushfire was called ‘Black Saturday’, and it was actually hundreds of bushfires all on this one day, and it was the worst Australia bushfire in terms of lives lost. These fires were a series of bushfires that were ignited or were burning across the state of Victoria on Saturday the 7th of February in 2009, it was nine years ago, with the final fire going out or being put out more than a month later on the 14th of March.

The fires occurred during extreme bushfire weather conditions and resulted in Australia’s highest ever loss of life from a bushfire with a total of 180 fatalities and a further 414 people were injured as a result of the fires. There were as many as 400 individual fires recorded that day with the total amount of burnt area, including more than a million acres so about half a million hectares of land.

What caused these fires? There were various confirmed causes of these fires including:

  • power lines,
  • lightning,
  • machinery,
  • and even arson

So, people had actually lit these fires on purpose and more than 3,500 buildings including two thousand homes were burnt to the ground and completely destroyed. So, it was a very tragic event and if you ask any Australian about Black Saturday they will know what you’re talking about and they will know about the tragic loss of life.


Vocabulary

A canopy the uppermost branches of the trees in a forest, forming a more or less continuous layer of foliage.

A community a particular area or place considered together with its inhabitants.

A competitor a person or thing that takes part in a sporting contest.

A creek – a very small river

A fatality an occurrence of death by accident, in war, or from disease.

A feral animal – a wild non-native animal

A hectare a metric unit of square measure, equal to 100 ares (2.471 acres or 10,000 square metres).

A hollow a hole or depression in something, e.g. a tree or log.

A household a house and its occupants regarded as a unit.

A life cycle the series of changes in the life of an organism including reproduction.

A seed the unit of reproduction of a flowering plant, capable of developing into another such plant.

A seed coat the protective outer layer of a seed.

A seed pod a seed vessel or dehiscent fruit that splits when ripe.

A seedling a young plant, especially one raised from seed and not from a cutting.

A tragic event – a very sad occurrence

A weed a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.

Adapt (to ST) become adjusted to new conditions.

All over the place – everywhere.

An acre – a unit of land area equal to 4,840 square yards (0.405 hectare).

An ash bed – a layer of burnt soot on the ground after a fire.

An ecosystem a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.

An impact the action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another.

Back burning a last-resort measure to stop wildfire from burning out specific areas

Burn ST away – use fire to remove unwanted plant material

Climate the weather conditions prevailing in an area in general or over a long period.

Confirmed (of a person) firmly established in a particular habit, belief, or way of life and unlikely to change their ways.

Crack ST break or cause to break without a complete separation of the parts.

Decimate ST kill, destroy, or remove a large proportion of.

Erosion the process of eroding or being eroded by wind, water, or other natural agents.

Evacuate (ST) remove (someone) from a place of danger to a safer place.

Excess an amount of something that is more than necessary, permitted, or desirable.

Extensive large in amount or scale.

Fertile (of soil or land) producing or capable of producing abundant vegetation or crops.

Flora and fauna – plants and animals

Frequent – commonly occurring

Further – additional

Game – animals that are hunted

Germination the development of a plant from a seed or spore after a period of dormancy.

Go out – (of a fire) to no longer burn

Growth the process of increasing in size.

Ignite ST – set fire to ST

Invasion an unwelcome intrusion into another’s domain.

Nesting (of a bird or other animal) use or build a nest.

Nutrients a substance that provides nourishment essential for the maintenance of life and for growth.

Occur on an annual basis – happen every year.

On one hand… on the other handused to introduce two contrasting things that are compared to one another

On purpose – not by accident

Prescribed burning the process of planning and applying fire to a predetermined area, under specific environmental conditions, to achieve a desired outcome.

Prevalent widespread in a particular area or at a particular time.

Primarily for the most part; mainly.

Put ST out (of a fire) – to cause to no longer burn

Regular arranged in or constituting a constant or definite pattern, especially with the same space between individual instances.

Relatively in relation, comparison, or proportion to something else.

Sedimentation the process of settling or being deposited as a sediment.

Shelter a place giving temporary protection from bad weather or danger.

Subsequent coming after something in time; following.

Suburbia the suburbs or their inhabitants viewed collectively.

That said… – However

The under-storey a layer of vegetation beneath the main canopy of a forest.

Thrive (of a child, animal, or plant) grow or develop well or vigorously.

Trigger ST cause (an event or situation) to happen or exist.

Vandalise ST deliberately destroy or damage (public or private property).

Vegetation plants considered collectively, especially those found in a particular area or habitat.

Wetlands land consisting of marshes or swamps; saturated land.

Woody – (of an area of land) covered with trees.