Winds could have trashed the town



Homes in the western suburbs of Alice Springs, Larapinta and Braitling, were under acute fire threat in the past few days, saved only by lucky wind conditions.

PHOTO Arid Lands Environment Centre. Looking west from Anzac Hill.

“The only reason Alice Springs didn’t suffer a similar fate to Lahaina in Hawaii this weekend was that there’s been no wind here,” says Alex Nelson, local historian and fighter for decades of imported buffel grass – the region’s most destructive bushfire fuel.

“That’s all that saved a large part of our town – especially the western side – from disaster.

“If there had been a strong northerly wind behind the escaped fuel reduction burn-off in Tjoritja National Park, nothing would have prevented that bushfire crashing into our suburbs.

“The Lahaina wildfires were fuelled by dry exotic grasses.

“One day our luck will run out.”

This is a running commentary by the police about the inferno – yet again – in Tjoritja known by most people as the West MacDonnell Ranges, the town’s world famous national attraction and the tourism industry’s lifeblood.

Saturday, 3pm

A fire [is] spreading on one or more fronts. Effective containment strategies are not in place for the entire perimeter.

Smoke from this fire may affect visibility. Active fire may occur close to the roadside. Firefighting crews may be working close to the roadside.

Conditions may change, monitor conditions in your area.

The West Side mountain bike tracks are all currently closed, and people are advised to avoid the area. For the safety of firefighting crews and other vehicles, drivers in the area are urged to slow down, turn on headlights and drive safely for the conditions.

Saturday, 6pm

Tjoritja, Larapinta, Ciccone, Araluen and Braitling. [The fire is] spreading on one or more fronts. Effective containment strategies are not in place for the entire perimeter.

Saturday, 7pm

Larapinta, Alice Springs. Murray Street, Patterson Crescent, Morehead Street, Grant Road, Saltwell Street and Lander Court are all now under the Watch and Act.

There is a heightened level of threat. Conditions are changing. Start taking action now to protect your family and your property.

Sunday, 1am

There is a reduced level of threat. You can resume normal activities. Effective containment strategies are not in place for the entire perimeter.

Sunday, 10am:

Tjoritja, Simpsons North.

Heavy smoke is affecting the Alice Springs Township and surrounding areas and those suffering from asthma or breathing ailments are advised to take precautions.

Effective containment strategies are not in place for the entire perimeter.

Smoke from this fire may affect visibility.

Conditions may change, monitor conditions in your area.

Crews are still employing defensive tactics in order to control the fire.

Government image burnt area 24 hours till 7am today.

We are seeking comment from NT Government authorities.


Police, Fire & Emergency did not provide a spokesperson to answer questions from the Alice Springs News.



36,000 hectares scorched in winter buffel grass fuelled wildfire: Statement from Alex Vaughan, Policy Officer, Arid Lands Environment Centre.

A controlled burn on Friday north of Simpson’s Gap, became out of control, burning huge parts of Tjoritja / West MacDonnell Ranges NP, then approaching Mparntwe Alice Springs. Ash fell from the sky and the town has been consumed in grassfire smoke.

This fire sends an ominous warning for the months ahead across Central Australia. Mark it in the diary, August 2023, winter, was when the 2023/24 wildfire season started.

Decades of NT Government neglect have put Mparntwe, remote communities and huge areas of the arid lands at risk. The events of the last few days are not a one-off, but are the culmination of decades of inaction.

“Remember that whenever buffel burns it is the first thing to come back, spreading further, putting more ecosystems at risk. It is a fire-promoting exotic species. Each rain and each fire is another chapter in the demise of Central Australia’s diverse and cherished ecosystems”

We urgently need Federal Government coordination and funding for buffel management. List buffel as a Weed of National Significance. It is already found in every mainland state and the Northern Territory. It has the potential to spread to 70% of this continent.

The Federal Government must implement its own 2014 Buffel Grass Threat Abatement Advice, with funding. This advice is scientifically based and comprehensive.

The NT Government needs to declare buffel grass a weed and transform its approach to conserving and restoring the arid lands. A fire promoting buffel grass monocrop is not in the public interest, nor does it support culture, environment or economy.

Learn from South Australia where buffel grass was declared a weed in 2015.

Thanks in large part to the great efforts over the weekend from firefighters, the fires appear to have been diverted from town.

UPDATE 8.55am

In light of the current fire management stuff-up by Parks & Wildlife burning out the WestMacs park adjacent to town, this item may be of interest.

It’s an article reviewing the successful progress of the dust control project during the 1970s, published in the NT Rural Review of Nov-Dec 1978, i.e., a few months after commencement of NT self-government.

It’s the earliest published mention of the fire risk posed by buffel grass that I’ve come across. It’s ironic, given that the current uncontrolled wildfire was started by a controlled burn attempting to reduce the fuel load of buffel grass in Tjorita / West MacDonnells National Park.


  1. A terrible situation to find ourselves in. Authorities have no answers when it comes to prevention.
    They need therefore to get serious about evacuation site preparation and advice. We need to prepare to run but when and where to?
    Buffel grass offered micro-short term benefits but has destroyed millenia of relative safety and security.

  2. The NT Government needs to stand up to the grazing lobby group and research a biological control for invasive Buffel grass because that is the only long term solution.
    They should consider risk management to their political future is they continue to fail to act and our town burns.

  3. @ Ralph. They won’t consider risk management to their political future because there is no risk.
    They simply take it in turns to be equally awful.
    I’m not sure but believe NT politicians are the highest paid in the land. Just before an election there is a nasty shitfight to determine who gets the price (both major parties) should they win.
    Then there is some nasty racist stuff about who is offering more for tough on crime and resourcing of police.
    Then we’re given a Hobson’s Choice between awful and awfuller.
    Meanwhile the country burns.

  4. Thank you for your informative article Erwin. On a recent interstate visit to Mparntwe Alice Springs, we visited the Olive Pink Botanic Garden and via a tour were educated about this introduced pasture grass and the widespread ecological degradation it has brought to arid Australia.
    We were encouraged by the role of the OPB Garden and their ongoing land management efforts and increased awareness, recognition for the practice of traditional Aboriginal cool burns to reduce the fuel load of this introduced vegetation.
    Listen to the voice and science of First Nations people, out of control “controlled” burns should be abolished in favour of cultural burns in all parts of Australia, even here on Yorta Yorta Country in temperate south-eastern Australia.

  5. Having had skin in the game on this matter, I concur with Alex and Bruce’s realistic comments above.


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