Fire: Bombers, buffel and planned burning



Water bombing, which is on stand-by around the clock in the Adelaide Hills during summer, “could have a role” in protecting Alice suburbs. Planned burning should be extended in The Centre’s national parks. And controlling buffel is critical for reducing the risk of fire around Alice Springs.

That’s the view of Dr Rohan Fisher, CDU’s Northern Institute fire researcher.

Last weekend’s fire moving towards the Stuart Highway. Photo Dr Fisher.

Instead what Alice Springs had over the weekend was a planned burn that got out of hand, started possibly at the wrong time, causing an inferno that destroyed 25,000 hectares, in and near the West MacDonnells National Park, and threatening the edge of the town.

“It’s good to see Parks to use fire actively,” says Dr Fisher.

“It is really unfortunate that this fire had to get away from them. It’s easy to blame people for doing the wrong thing. But I’m sure lessons will be learned.

“The one consolation is that if the same fire had sparked up in December or January it would have been 10 times worse in terms of the biodiversity impact.”

Bushfires NT did not reply to a question about the time the fire was lit, but Dr Fisher says management of fire at night can be easier “because it’s cooler and less windy and you’re able to see where the flames are.

“The key is burning at the right time and with the right conditions to make sure your fires are small.”

There is going to be some head scratching about what needs to be done, says Dr Fisher.

”I hope the lesson is not that we shouldn’t bring fire back into parks.

Dr Fisher says South Australia has permanent fire bombing airstrip in the Adelaide Hills which is manned 24 hours a day through their summers.

“As soon as they hear of a fire they have somebody in the air within minutes.”

Fire bombing is expensive: “The real issue what you resource and what you have on stand-by.

“I think in the example [Alice Springs] had in the last few days, [water bombers] close to built infrastructure have a role.”

The task now is not having a repeat of fire events in 2010 and 2011 when most of Central Australia burned out in a few months, in post La Niña wet years.

“We’re in the same situation now. The risks are high.”

PHOTO at top: Arid Lands Environment Centre.


  1. Not so simple. Cattle preferentially eat highly palatable native grasses ahead of buffel grass so the latter gets a competitive advantage on grazing land.
    Alternatively, flog the land to the bare bones with overstocking of cattle and return to the days of massive dust storms.
    Your solution is not simple, it’s simplistic.

  2. @ Kathy: Do tourists want to see cattle grazing on country they visit in Central Australia?
    With herds of cattle they would all need protection from clouds of flies.
    As part of the tourist industry your solution is over-simplistic and counterproductive.


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