Over the past 15 years I have watched our mountain forests – alpine ash and snow gum – burn and burn. More than 90% of the Victorian distribution of snow gums has burned at least once since 2003. Climate change is creating longer and more intense fire seasons and this is changing our mountains. The world has warmed as a result of human activity and now all fire events occur in a warmer environment.
Last summer’s fires showed that we simply don’t have enough resources to fight these ‘fires of the future’.
Maybe this is where you come in.
It is clear we will need more capacity to fight fires in the mountains, forests and other public lands. There are four obvious options here in Victoria:
- Continue to invest in air support to fight fires in remote areas, with continued resource sharing between the states and overseas jurisdictions, to access additional planes and helicopters when needed
- Continue to increase the number of paid seasonal firefighters, including additional allocation of funds and training to expand the number of remote area firefighters
- The federal government should establish a national remote area firefighting force which can be deployed as needed across Tasmania and mainland states when World Heritage and National Parks are at risk. This was recommended by a Senate inquiry after the devastating fires in Tasmania of 2016.
- In addition to funding additional FFMV remote area teams we could establish a new volunteer remote area fire force, similar to the Remote Area Fire Teams (RAFT) model in NSW, to add capacity to fire fighting efforts in national parks, state forests and other public lands. It’s job would be to stop small fires before they turn into huge blazes.
Maybe this is where you come in:
- The Victorian RAFT program, which should be based within the Country Fire Authority (CFA), could be structured to offer opportunities for younger and urban based people to join firefighting efforts. As fire seasons become longer and more intense, we will need additional fire fighters and, at present, urban based people have no way of supporting fire fighting efforts as volunteers. Creating new opportunities for urban people to join efforts on large ‘campaign’ fires could greatly add to volunteer capacity in bad seasons.
How would it work?
City-based people could sign up and do the usual training that other volunteer firefighters do (pre training, General Firefighter qualifications, hazardous tree identification and ‘burn over’ drill – how to survive being caught in a fire). This could be taught as a block during winter uni holidays. Remote area firefighters will also require some additional training in ‘dry firefighting’ techniques.
Once qualified, new firefighters could then nominate their availability to fight fires over the next fire season, and then be sent specifically to fight new fires in the mountains and other remote areas in national parks and state forests.
This would include ‘dry firefighting’ techniques, working on foot to black out fires that are starting from lightning strikes before they really get going. This could save many thousands of hectares of mountain country from being burnt.
Check here for further details on the proposal and how it might work.
How could we make this happen?
At present, to fight fires in the mountains and other wild areas you either apply to work as a seasonal fire fighter with the state government (Forest Fire Management Victoria, or FFMV) or join a local CFA brigade and nominate to go to fires as part of a strike team.
What if you live in inner Melbourne or the suburbs? Most people in Melbourne are simply too far from a local brigade to join the CFA and becoming a government fire fighter is potentially a 5 month commitment, which is impossible for most people.
If we set up a remote area volunteer force, once you have your qualifications, you could sign on for a week or two, be deployed, and play your part.
A starting point in getting such a team created is to let the government know that people would join.
If it’s something you would consider being involved with, add a comment below with your name and postcode, or send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
We will gather numbers to help with our lobby efforts of the government to get this team established.
UPDATE: 22 people have already contacted me to express interest! There is clearly a desire to see this happen.
This will not solve all the problems we face as fire seasons get longer and more intense. But if remote area teams focus on stopping new fires that have started from lightning strikes, it could save huge areas of wild land from being burnt.
Remote area fire fighting requires specific skills. It is incredibly hard work. It is potentially dangerous. But it is immensely fulfilling.