On Thursday May 7th 2015, a fire in burned for 5 hours in Perth’s Kings Park, burning 6 hectares (60,000 square meters) of our 400 hectare, best known national park. This is an area roughly the size of the MCG. Like so many bush fires, this one was intentionally lit by people. Unlike so many bush fires, it is not being labeled ‘arson’, and there is no search for the unknown fire bugs who started the blaze.
This fire is the first of what has been called a ‘prescribed burn’. It is part of what is planned to be an ongoing scientific research project, which aims to study the best way to manage inner city bush fire risks. A second 6 hectare fire is planned for Bold Park in City Beach. The two locations were selected because of their proximity to the city, and suburban areas.
This is a long term project, and the burnt area in each park will be managed very carefully. First they will divide the area in half. This will give both Kings Park and Bold Park two separate 3 Hectare sections. One section will be set on fire every 6 years, and the other will be ignited every 12 years.
Is it just me, or does this research sound like it’s being run by Dr. Evil, and his band of mad scientists? The project was not being run by an megalomaniacal organization with aspirations of world domination. The people on hand to monitor and control the burn were not an army of henchmen. Instead this fire was managed by those we entrust to protect the very land they were burning. The consortium included staff from Kings Park, the Department of Parks and Wildlife, and Fire and the Department Emergency Services.
West Australian Environmental Minister Albert Jacob, endorsed the project saying that it is: "Important for gathering vital information on how we can manage the fire risk to get the balance right between public safety and conservation"
The areas burnt in the study equate to 1.5% of Kings Park and 1.37% of Bold Park. Mr Jacob was unconcerned because the area burned in Kings Park, was not near the popular spots. He went on to say: "With many rare and threatened species found on the Swan Coastal Plain, part of the research will investigate the ideal interval between fires to allow native plants and animals to thrive in highly fragmented urban environments."
The Science of Fire
I’m no scientific expert, but I have to wonder what they are hoping to learn from this exercise. What do we know about fire? It’s hot, it burns things, it grows at a faster rate when you add oxygen and flammable material. Weather conditions such as hot dry windy days increase the risk of fire. Will the study disprove any of this, or find new information? I don’t think so.
They are not trying to study fire, they are trying to study ways to manage bush fire risks and protecting the natural environment. My hypothesis is that the research will find that the best way to manage bush fires is:
- Prevention – Manage fire prone areas by keeping a close watch on them in the dry seasons, and perhaps even going in and cleaning away some of the fallen branches etc which we all know help fires spread faster. Taking steps to stop people intentionally lighting fires would be nice too, but I’m not sure lighting a fire will discourage others from doing the same thing. ‘Starting fires is bad for the environment and illegal, but we can do it because it’s in the name of science’
- Reaction – In the event of a bush fire, react as fast as possible and take steps toward putting the fire out. I am guessing that this can by either adding water to fire, or removing oxygen, by throwing sand on it or something similar… It’s possible that these scientists will discover new and improved ways to manage fire. After all fire was one of man’s first discoveries so the scientific community has thousands of years of experience to improve upon.
- Protecting the Natural Environment – As mentioned by the environmental minister, the area contains ‘many rare and threatened species’. I’m neither a botanist nor a biologist, but I am certain that one effective way to protect the environment, is to not set it on fire. The area they burned was not popular with people, so it wasn’t a playground or a picnic area. It was untouched bush land. I think the researchers will be surprised when, their research concludes that, setting rare and threatened species on fire, is bad for them.
Putting Things In Perspective
Maybe things aren’t as dramatic as we think, after they are only burning 12 hectares of natural bush land (6 Ha in each park). What is 6 Hectares anyway? It’s roughly the same land mass taken up by the Melbourne Cricket Ground. An area capable of hosting a large cricket oval surrounded by a stadium capable of hosting 100,000 fans. This study is burning enough natural park lands to build two MCGs.
Perhaps it was only a small fire, and the impact will be minimal… below is a photo of the fire taken from Singleton Beach. The pollution in the name of protecting the environment, is prominently visible 63 Kilometers from Kings Park.
I look forward to reading about the results of this study. The advances in environmental protection and fire prevention are sure to outweigh the detrimental impact of having intentionally set a fire.
What Will Come Next?
If scientists are trying to study bush fire prevention, by creating bush fires, I am worried about what may be in our future. What if they decide to study:
- Road Safety – This could involve spending the day driving around and intentionally colliding with other motorists.
- Youth Drug Addiction – Are they going to visit schools and hand out illicit drugs to our children?
- World Peace – In an effort to study reducing the danger of war, will they fire a missile at a random nation?
As I said, I am not a scientist, and I am happy to be proven wrong. But from an outside point of view, this study is nonsensical. If you know more about this 'prescribed burn', please feel free to share in the comments section.