Monday, September 21, 2009

Seven Months After

Two weekends ago we drove north about 40 kilometres to Kinglake, one of the communities devastated by the bushfires in February. The two roads that wind up through the hills there are surrounded by blackened trees. Regrowth is noticeable against the blackness -- bright green moss is growing along the forest floor, nourished by the nutrients in the ash. Fern trees have sprouted. Little seedlings are creeping up in the black foliage. A green fuzz of leaves is creeping up the trees.
The Bushfires Royal Commission released its interim report in late August. The system that was in place in February was seen to be riddled with faults. Unnecessary bureaucracy. Unclear language when determining fire risk. A policy of advising people to stay and fight. Ungraded fire conditions. Emergency response systems that collapsed. Two different fire response units, one for public land and one for communities, that did not communicate with each other. A list of at-risk areas was released, and the Dandenongs are included. The Victorian government was quick to change some of its rules related to managing the bush. Within this area, people are now permitted to remove trees within 10 metres of their homes, and dead trees up to 30 metres away. This could create an area of clear space around dwellings, hopefully giving more chance to defend against a smaller fire. Very little could have been done to defend against the maelstrom that occurred on February 7.

A community group has been formed in the Dandenongs. Residents of the town of Sassafras, concerned by potential risk for the upcoming summer, spearheaded the development of the group. The CFA is listening, and the State Government responded with the new 10-30 rule. In the past, people had to obtain Council permission to clear anything from their blocks, regardless of closeness to the dwelling. This will allow people to clear fuel from their yards without having to go through a bureaucracy.
Another big concern relates to the roads. They are narrow, winding without room to pass, many are not "through" roads (dead ends), the trees within the bush are known to come down in high winds, and the tourist traffic that shows up on weekends completely crowds out the little towns. It would be almost impossible to retreat in the event of a fast-moving event like that which occurred last Feb. 7. We've already had some high spring temperatures of 25 degrees which coincided with blustery winds. Trees came down. It is important to balance nature with safety. People live here because of the beauty, the huge gum trees, the greenness and the life. Right now they are trying to find a balance between the gorgeous landscape and its potential danger.

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