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An Australian Firefighter’s Insider View of the Australian Bushfires

We’ve all been watching or listening to the horrific stories currently coming out of Australia regarding the record-breaking fire season and Australian Bushfires, which is now the nation’s biggest-ever catastrophe; with current estimates of 18.6 million hectares of land having burnt, over 5,900 homes destroyed and at least 29 people killed. Not to mention an estimated one billion animals killed and potentially endangered species driven to extinction.

Its long-lasting effects are as yet unknown, although according to NASA the smoke from the bushfires is expected to make at least one full circuit of the globe, affecting air quality around the world before returning back to Australia. By studying smoke plumes, the space agency has already been able to see that by 8th January the smoke had travelled halfway across the world, reaching South America, spreading over Buenos Aires, before drifting into the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s a natural humanitarian disaster, the like of which has never been seen before. Due to its extreme and complex nature – including the political implications a disaster of this scale brings – many questions have been raised around the world: Where was its source and is climate change the probable cause? Was enough done leading up to ‘bushfire season’ to prevent and control the spread of fires?

To gain an objective and informative perspective, we found Drew Strunk. An Australian Firefighter and Logistics Manager for Backpacker Medics (BPM), he has over a decade of experience in Fire and Rescue and numerous emergency response fields – including humanitarian relief.

Drew Strunk on the Australian Bushfire Crisis

Drew Strunck, Backpacker MedicsBeing a firefighter in Australia a lot of people have asked me for my opinion on the current bushfire crisis – so let’s talk about the fires.

First of all, does being a ‘firery’ give me all the insight to this complex issue? Not even close – and I need to make that clear. However, there is a lot of false science and outright lies being peddled on social media as ‘news’ or ‘facts’ that I would like to set straight

 

 


Hazard Reduction Burns (HRB)
No – ‘The Greens’ political party haven’t been stopping hazard reduction burns from taking place. I believe we still do them and yes, we should absolutely do more of them. It’s unfortunate that due to the weather extremes and droughts its significantly reduced the window in which it’s safe to perform these burns, but they should continue.

Yes – the state governments need to invest more money in HRB’s. New South Wales (NSW) for example, as an estimate, would need to increase their budget from $100million to a half billion, a five-fold increase – that money needs to come from somewhere.

Yes – national parks, wildlife and nature reserves need to burn as well, but I appreciate this is hard to do. They are, after all, the sanctuary’s for Australia’s fauna that can no longer survive in the farmlands and housing estates we’ve constructed. And as we’ve seen from the current Australian bushfires, indiscriminate burning of national parks can, and has, literally wiped species off the face of the earth as they often have nowhere else to go.

Yes – indigenous people used to manage the land through burning and have an important contribution here. However, Australia is a different landscape now, home to 24 million people and so HRB’s needs to be managed differently.

Yes – conditions have been so bad this season that fires have still burnt through areas where hazard reduction burns were completed earlier in the year.

Climate Change
No – climate change is not physically starting fires. Lightning strikes, people, negligence and other factors are to blame. BUT climate change is contributing to increasing temperatures and increasing drought severity, which is creating worsening fire conditions and a longer fire season.

Yes – we should have acted on climate change long ago. All of us. The whole world. Everyone. No-one knows exactly how much climate change has contributed to exacerbating the conditions for this year’s catastrophic fire season, but the best science available and the general scientific consensus is that there is an undeniable link.

Aerial Firefighting
Yes – as the fire season grows longer and northern and southern hemisphere fire seasons overlap more and more, Australia will have to invest in its own aerial firefighting fleet and not rely on leasing from overseas. Perhaps we should have done this earlier. We didn’t.

Politics and the media
Yes – these fires have been politicised and yes, our media is politicised.

If you’re left-leaning and read Fairfax newspapers, you’re more likely to blame Scott Morrison (Australia’s Prime Minister) and the government right now for their response. If you’re right-leaning and read News Ltd newspapers you’re more likely to blame The Greens right now for ‘stopping’ hazard reduction burns. Your social media is politicised in the same way and will show and share media that supports your general position and most likely strengthen your own existing narrative.

No – a video on Facebook of a guy in the bush screaming at The Greens is not a ‘fact’ about what caused these fires. A video of someone shouting at Scott Morrison for not funding the NSW Rural Fire Service (state gov funded) is not a ‘fact’ about what caused these fires.
Has Scott Morrison done enough? Should he have gone on holiday? If you know me, you know I’m left-leaning, so my answer will naturally contain a bias.

The best solution? A royal commission. Let impartial experts tell us what went wrong and how to act in response to it. I think you’ll find we’re all a little bit ‘right’ as well as a little bit ‘wrong’.


What can we do to help?

Right now, the simple answer is to donate – any amount you are able to spare will massively help the relief effort now and over the course of the next few months as the land and the Australian people recover. Always do your research and donate wisely, but here are a few reputable charities to start you off:

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