Climate change can’t be blamed for the bushfires that raged through central Queensland at the end of November, according to bushfire planning specialist, Bernard Trembath.
“No matter where you stand on the issue, it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “These fires were a culmination of circumstances, most of it due to the rural-urban mix and people moving out into rural areas.”
Mr Trembath spent 20 years in forestry and another 20 years in the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, some of it as regional manager, rural operations, Brisbane region, where he was responsible for bushfire mitigation, before establishing Bushfire Planning Services in 2014.
He said it was a big call by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to suddenly blame climate change.
He said it was certainly dry in the central Queensland area where the majority of the fires took place but the conditions weren’t abnormal.
“That area around Baffle Creek – I grew up at Bundaberg when it was all secluded fishing spots. Now it’s been subdivided into lots and suddenly you’ve got people there.
“Fires occurred there in the past and people managed.
“Now a lot of people don’t have the experience – they’re not using the land for production so they don’t see the need to manage it for fire.”
Compounding the problem was that fire wardens in these areas increasingly lacked firsthand firefighting experience, which could impact on an application to burn off and the need under the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 to give neighbours a chance to comment.
While believing the threat of bushfires could be addressed by education, Mr Trembath said there was no political mileage to be gained from either education or mitigation.
He was critical of an increased reliance on a mechanised approach to fire management once they’d started, especially the 737 water bombers, and the escalating cost in using them.
“We think we can win battles with machines, like the Americans thought in Vietnam, but bushfires are like guerillas, creeping around the foundations.”
Mr Trembath, who had just returned from Carnarvon Gorge where he said significant Aboriginal rock art had been lost, didn’t believe forests and national parks were the problems in the recent fires.
However, he said while it was drawing a long bow to say Queensland’s vegetation management laws were responsible for the fires, there were imposts on landholders Australia-wide, pointing to constraints on the use of fire as a management tool.
As far as learning from the central Queensland fires, he was critical of the state government plan to conduct an internal review, saying they couldn’t investigate themselves, placing his faith instead in the federal review to bring out all the facts.
That should include whether there had been a need to evacuate so many people, especially at Gracemere, where he said imagery showed the fire was moving away, towards eaten-out grass country.
“A fire needs fuel and there was no fuel there to burn – it was talked up way beyond what it was.”