Flat White

The Bushfires Royal Commission: saving reputations, not lives and property

1 September 2020

7:14 PM

1 September 2020

7:14 PM

The Interim Observations of the Bushfires Royal Commission are extremely disturbing. Not because they reveal any frightening facts about climate or weather, rather because they make it clear that Commission will accept the climate cop-out argument from fire chiefs and green academic experts who have visited holocaust upon us.  

After the introductory waffle, the first observation is that: “The 2019-2020 bushfires and the conditions leading up to them were unprecedented. They are no longer unprecedented.” The staff of the Commission seem to lack a command of the English language. Unprecedented means it never happened before. The Black Summer fires are still unprecedented. More importantly, the Commission has misrepresented the facts. The conditions weren’t unprecedented. 

During the Settlement Drought, Australia experienced conditions every bit as bad as Black Summer, during three consecutive summers, but there were no disasters because Aboriginal people were maintaining a healthy and safe landscape. First Fleeter, Captain Watkin Tench wrote:  

To convey an idea of the climate, in summer, I shall transcribe, from my meteorological journal, accounts of two particular days, which were the hottest we ever suffered under at Sydney. December 27th 1790. Wind NNW; it felt like the blast of a heated oven, and in proportion as it increased, the heat was found to be more intense, the sky hazy, the sun gleaming through at intervals…. At 20 minutes past two 109 degrees.

That day’s maximum of 109 degrees Fahrenheit on Sydney Harbour was 43 degrees celsius. By coincidence, this was the temperature two centuries later at Death Valley, California – the hottest known place on earth – at midday on 10th July 2013, the Centenary of the day of the highest ever recorded temperature on earth – 134 degrees F or 570 C.  

In 1791, Tench noted: 

But even this heat was judged to be far exceeded in the latter end of the following February, when the north-west wind again set in, and blew with a great violence for three days. At Sydney, it fell short by one degree of what I have just recorded: but at Rose Hill, it was allowed, by every person, to surpass all that they had before felt, either there, or in any other part of the world. … An immense flight of bats, driven before the wind, covered all the trees around the settlement, whence they every moment dropped dead, or in a dying state, unable longer to endure the burning state of the atmosphere. Nor did the perroquettes, though tropical birds, bear it better; the ground was strewed with them in the same condition as the bats.

Imagine the mileage that global warming enthusiasts such as Tim Flannery, Greg Mullins and Will Steffen would make of such an event were it to happen in Parramatta Park today. There were no total fire bans in those days. Aboriginal fires were burning 24/365. They even had fires on clay hearths in their bark canoes. Tench correctly deduced the meteorological cause of the extreme conditions which these days generate multimedia warnings of catastrophe: 

Were I asked the cause of this intolerable heat, I should not hesitateto pronounce, that it was occasioned by the wind blowing overimmense desarts, which, I doubt not, exist in a north-west directionfrom Port Jackson, and not from fires kindled by the natives. …My other remarks on the climate will be short; it is changeable beyond any other I ever heard of

On another day of extreme weather conditions, 5th December 1792, a grass fire at Sydney burnt one house and several gardens and fences before being controlled. On the same day Judge Advocate David Collins wrote: 

At Parramatta and Toongabbe also the heat was extreme; the country there too was everywhere in flames. Mr. Arndell was a great sufferer by it. The fire had spread to his farm; but by the efforts of his own people and the neighbouring settlers it was got under, and its progress supposed to be effectually checked, when an unlucky spark from a tree, which had been on fire to the topmost branch, flying upon the thatch of the hut where his people lived, it blazed out; the hut with all the outbuildings, and thirty bushels of wheat, just got into a stack, were in a few minutes destroyed.

Thousands of houses with steel or tile roofs were destroyed during Black Summer despite our having huge firefighting armies and airforces. The Royal Commissions observations were 

While there have been large fire seasons in the past, the 2019-2020 season set a new benchmark for an extreme fire season in Australia’s temperate forests. … Our inquiry is not only about bushfires, but also about natural disasters more generally. Australia’s weather and climate agencies have told us that changes to the climate are projected to increase the frequency and intensity of natural disasters in Australia. Further warming over the next 20 years appears to be inevitable. Sea-levels are projected to continue to rise. Tropical cyclones are projected to decrease in number, but increase in intensity. Floods and bushfires are expected to become more frequent and more intense.

I pointed out to the Royal Commission at their Community Forum at Mallacoota and in my submission, that the gigafires we are currently suffering are not natural disasters. They are a consequence of unprecedented accumulation of 3D continuous fuel which generates unstoppable firestorms and long-distance ember showers during extreme weather. I also noted that the 2003 House of Reps Inquiry had identified the problem and the solution – mild burning across the landscape. The 2004 COAG Inquiry by an Emergency Fire Chief and two Green Academics swept the solution under the carpet and gave us ongoing Holocausts and Mass Evacuations. 

The title of the Royal Commission into Natural Disasters and the appointment of a Commissioner – Professor Macintosh – who’s a professional academic climate change enthusiast didn’t bode well for positive outcomes. When they redacted references to the House of Representatives solution and the COAG whitewash – all on the public record – from my submission, it left me in no doubt that result was predetermined. The Royal Commission was directed to consider previous bushfire inquiries. But they published an article focusing on a number of inquiries going back to COAG in 2004 and stopping short of the 2003 inquiry A Nation Charred.  

Their Interim Observations are that: 

Bushfire behaviour has become more extreme and less predictable. Catastrophic fire conditions may become more common, rendering traditional bushfire prediction models and firefighting techniques less effective. Even the most well-resourced government agencies cannot entirely protect the public from the risks of natural disasters. Some bushfires, for example, will be too large and too widespread; some Australians will live too remotely; and there are only so many firefighters, aircraft and trucks that can be deployed at the same time.

Bushfire behaviour in well-managed forests is entirely predictable. Firestorms in unnatural 3D continuous fuels during extreme weather are unpredictable and unstoppable. Firebreaks, fire engines, waterbombers and fuel reduced zones on urban fringes don’t work. Australian Aborigines survived 40,000 years of climate change without them.  

Vic Jurkis is a former NSW Forestry Commission professional forester, Officer in Charge of the Forestry Commission’s Regional Research Centre at Eden, the Forestry Commission’s Regional Planning Manager at Eden and Silviculturist for the Commission’s Native Forest Division, responsible for forest management across the State. In 2004 he was awarded a Fellowship by the Joseph William Gottstein Memorial Trust, to investigate eucalypt decline across Australia. He has published two books, Firestick Ecology, and The Great Koala Scamboth available from Connor Court.


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