Date: Mon, 9 Feb 2015


I have rec'd about 19 emails and several phone calls from people who are outraged at the statements on the value of hazard reduction burning by Peter Robertson of the Wilderness Society and the "bushfire experts" in the Environmental Science school at Murdoch University (Professors Enright and Fontaine). This nonsense made it into The Australian and has been all over the ABC.

Normally these days I ignore Robertson. Firstly he is an ideologist with zero practical experience of bushfire operations or practice. I do not think he has a smidgeon of credibility outside the Greens and the green-leaners in the media. Secondly he nearly always exposes himself as foolish and ignorant without any help from me. And thirdly he is a hypocrite, for example he depicts the karri forest as threatened by hazard reduction burning, but he knows that these beautiful and ecologically-rich forests are the product of a fire protection system which incorporated hazard reduction burning over many decades.

As for Enright and Fontaine, I have nothing but contempt for them. Without the benefit of five minutes experience fighting forest fires, and never having been responsible for the design or implementation of a forest fire management system, closeted in their air-conditioned offices in their peaceful leafy campus, totally unaccountable, they presume to advise Australian bushfire managers and firefighters what to do, and they mislead the public. The latter is demonstrated by their published assertion that "there is no evidence that fuel reduction burning has any value in wildfire control" - a view unsupported by science, the bushfire literature or fire fighter experience. Unfortunately some gullible young journalists are still sucked in by the fact that they are Professors and therefore must know what they are talking about. Unfortunately they are not alone - similar stuff has been coming out of the ANU and the University of Wollongong for years.

Let me very simply demolish the Robertson position. He is saying that because the lightning struck into bush that had been burned in 2009, and because the fire did not go out immediately, it proves that fuel reduction burning is useless. What he ignores is

(1) six-year old bush in the karri country might be carrying 15-20 tonnes of fuel per ha and is obviously going to burn if ignited. In former times this area would have just been coming up for its next burn, as the burning rotation in the karri country used to be about 6-8 years.

(2) a bushfire system (as we once had) does not rely on a single burn. It relied on a rotational burning system that produced a mosaic of burned areas/fuels of different ages. If the rotation was 6 years, then 50% of the forest would have fuels aged 0-3. It is in the 0-3 year old fuels that fire fighting was nearly always successful (especially at night). The strategic placement of burns across the worst fire winds meant that no fire could travel far before running into light fuels.

The difficulty facing present day fire fighters is that almost no burning has been done in the karri forest for many years. The lightning fire we are talking about did not run into 1 or 2 year old fuels, it ran into 40-year old fuels. No wonder the poor buggers could not catch it. A special problem, well-known to experienced firefighters is that fires in heavy forest fuels do not die down at night, as they do in lighter fuels, allowing head fires to be rounded up in the hours before dawn. My information about the Northcliffe fire was that it was still going like the clappers in the middle of the night - and this is completely in line with past experience.

Putting the last nail in the Robertson, Enright and Fontaine coffins, we actually did see the Northcliffe fire burn into two year old fuels in the Chesapeake area on the second day of the fire. And what happened? This flank basically went out and was easily rounded up. The Wildernessies and the Underminers would not, of course, mention this. Nor would it be reported by the gullible journo from The Australian.

Finally, as I am sure you have all noticed, Robertson, Enright, Fontaine and co love to decry foresters and firefighters ... but they never offer a positive solution of their own. I have twice over the years invited Robertson to set out the bushfire management strategy for WA forests that he would implement if he was in charge, but he has never done so.

You might like to forward this email to your contacts, as it is important to counter the dangerous absurdities of those who oppose and undermine responsible bushfire management in Australia.


Roger Underwood

Chairman, The Bushfire Front Inc