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Bushfires in Australia

the life and death cycle of fire

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Bushfires in Australia are a part of life. Many native plants require fire, or at least intense heat, to germinate.

Australian Aborigines used fire as a land management and hunting tool for millennia before European settlement and stories about the creation and use of fire are part of Indigenous Dreamings. A storyboard in Victoria’s Grampians National Park, gives the Aboriginal perspective of fire in the region. It tells how lightning and its dangerous fire lived in the mountains while plains crows controlled useful and safe fire. Until Yuuloin Keear (red-browed firetail) stole a fire stick, which it lost to Tarrakukk (a hawk), who dropped it, igniting a blaze that gave the Jardwadjali and Djab wurrung people access to fire.

There have, though, been devastating conflagrations during the country’s short recorded history. Wind-fanned fires have erupted after years of low rainfall and days of hot temperatures, burning swathes of land, destroying thousands of homes and claiming multiple human lives.

Black Friday (1939) and Ash Wednesday (1983), which ravaged Victoria and South Australia, were the most infamous bushfires before the firestorms that raged across Victoria on Saturday 7th February 2009. Now known as Black Saturday, the latter took a terrible toll: 173 people (and countless stock and wildlife) killed, half a dozen towns virtually wiped out, and more than 2000 homes razed.

The fires also blackened millions of hectares of state and national park and destroyed tourist infrastructure, resulting in park closures. Seeing the Australian bush regrowing after fire adds an extra dimension to any hike but the dramatically altered landscape can be a shock to return visitors.

Online park notes give updates about changed conditions and closures due to fire (and other extreme weather).


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