According to ABC Online news:
Up to 20 properties are feared destroyed or damaged by fires across Victoria, with a number of communities in the state’s west and east under threat.
At least three homes have burnt down near Anakie, west of Melbourne, after a lightning strike started a fire that destroyed more than 6,000 hectares of the Brisbane ranges.
Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) chief fire officer Andrew Greystone says the fire behaviour has prevented crews from assessing further damage.
“We believe that there have been houses and or property lost in the Brisbane ranges and in the Grampians,” he said.
The Grampians fire at Mt Lubra in the west has covered more than 100,000 hectares and threatened the towns of Moyston, Pomonal, Halls Gap and Stawell.
In Gippsland in the east, a deliberately-lit blaze now at 10,000 hectares, has left Moondarra under ember attack and continues to threaten Erica, Rawson and Tyres.
In the north-east, the towns of Yea, Kinglake and Glenburn should maintain ember patrols.
Crews are racing to have the fires contained before Thursday’s return to 40 degree Celsius temperatures.
I have just found and re-read my copy of a speech given by Athol Hodgson in December 2004 at the Eureka Forum in Ballarat. It includes some history and some advice:
The fire event in 1985 when lightning started 111 fires in a pattern similar to the fire event in 2003 is one valid benchmark for learning. The 1985 campaign lasted 14 days and confined the Alpine fires to 50000 ha without the help of rain. It involved 2,000 Departmental, 500 CFA, 449 Armed Services, 120 timber industry and 50 SEC personnel; 75 bulldozers, 400 fire tankers and 36 aircraft. In the aftermath, debriefs were held without rancor or political interference and there was no call for an Inquiry into the event.
In 1985 there was a large work-force of experienced firefighters working in the forests. It included people working on hydro-electricity projects; tree fellers, sniggers and log carters employed by the timber industry; graziers; forest workers building fire access tracks, maintaining roads and tracks, and picking seed for forest regeneration and forest officers supervising forest licensees, forest works and planning autumn prescribed burning for forest regeneration and fuel reduction. That work-force and the vehicles and equipment it used daily in the forests was immediately available on 14 January 1985. A work-force of similar size and experience in fighting fires in the Alpine forests was not immediately available for fire fighting in January 2003.
A top priority for Government to ensure good forest fire management is to put a bigger and permanent workforce into the parks and State forests do the things that must to be done to sustain healthy and diverse forest ecosystems. That workforce must have skills, transport, tools and machinery capable of managing multiple ignitions from lightning as was done in 1985. It is not absolutely necessary to reverse land use decisions to do this but it is necessary to change some current land management practices. The workforce must have a mission appropriate for the approved land use. In parks, the mission must include controlling feral animals, weeds, erosion, keeping access tracks in a condition where they are easily maintained, collecting seed and revegetating damaged sites, planning and conducting prescribed burns and controlling unplanned fires. In State forests where commercial use of vegetation is permitted the mission must include all the above and additional tasks appropriate to the commercial operation.
Another top priority is to restore prescribed burning programs in forests. Immediately after the Ash Wednesday fires in 1983 the Government injected $1 million extra into the programs effectively doubling the money available for field staff to do the work. Yet the programs crashed. In 1992 the Auditor General found that the Department of Conservation and Environment had failed to achieve its planned fuel-reduction targets in three consecutive seasons and that those areas the Department identified as warranting the highest level of protection to human life, property and public assets received the lowest level of protection. And in 2003 the Auditor General found that since 1994, fuel reduction burning has never met the Department’s planning and operational fuel-reduction targets. In allowing that to happen, the Department ignored the truism heralded by Judge Stretton in 1939, repeated by Sir Esler Hamilton Barber in 1977 and further reinforced by the Miller Report on the Ash Wednesday fires in 1983, that fire prevention must be the paramount consideration of the forest manager. The Government and the Department must lift their game. They must do so, not only in places where the priority is to protect life and assets. Those places are a very small proportion of the forest estate and to concentrate on them to the exclusion of the rest of the forests will lead inevitably to more feral fires. Prescribed burning has been done successfully in the past on broad areas to create forest diversity and reduce the damaging effects of wildfires. The practice had little community and no political support from the mid-1980’s until 2003 and was the reason why fuel management programs crashed in that era. That support must be won and the practice reinstated in our forests in a safe way.
These two priorities will cost money in large amounts. Victorians must anticipate that contributions to forest fire management from forest industries by way of royalties or in kind will not in the future, be as great as in the mid-1980’s. And visitor fees and similar charges are ‘petty cash’ compared to the many millions of dollars needed to sustain local and largely permanent workforces in rural communities close to where they are needed most. But Victoria’s forests are an asset that requires to be valued by the community in the same way that any other asset is provided with a value that guides its management and protection. The intrinsic values of wilderness, water catchments, biodiversity, cultural sites and the like are valued by the community as much, and often more, as are tangibles like sawlogs and gravel. The community must insist that they be protected and be prepared to pay the cost. The challenge facing the community is to assemble information about forest fire that is based on science, tested by experience and then play it successfully in the political arena. Politicians of all political persuasions are sensitive to environmental issues involving water catchments, forests and fire. Governments will find money for causes supported by communities with political clout. The alternative is more feral fires.
You can read more about Athol Hodgson at Forest Fire Victoria Inc.