The Climate Council says that Australia faces ‘unprecedented grassfires next summer ‘supercharged’ by global heating’. Fuel loads that increased after heavy rain are now drying out and creating ‘powder keg’ conditions for future fires. While the mountains of the south east have had a number of mild summers with very limited fire activity, we know that next summer could be different if El Nino conditions return. In lutruwita/ Tasmania, dry conditions in the west have led to a number of significant fires this summer.

We know that climate change is making fire seasons longer and more intense, and that there are many things we must do to respond to these threats, around fire fighting capacity, community resilience, and ensuring our homes and cities are ready for the climatic changes that are already underway. People living in mountain communities and valley towns know the impacts of these changes very well – the fires of 2019/20 shut down many areas for months, with massive environmental and economic damage.

In the mountains, fires often start as a result of lightning strikes. In Victoria, Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMV) crews do an excellent job of stopping these small fires before they turn into blazes. But we know that in bad seasons – like the summer of 2019/20 – we simply don’t have enough firefighters who can be put onto these fires.

One option in Victoria would be to establish a volunteer remote area firefighting team, as NSW, the ACT and Tasmania have done. And it could be set up specifically to train new volunteers who live in large cities and regional centres who, at present are not able to volunteer because they live too far from a fire station.

With ageing rural communities and Australia’s population concentrated in major cities, maybe the answer may lie in the inner city and suburbs.

A report on volunteers run on the ABC says:

“We’re suggesting that the government thinks differently and rather than draw on volunteers from existing brigades that we set up a volunteer remote area firefighting team that explicitly draws on new volunteers from urban areas and large regional centres.”

“There’s lots of people that live in the city that love the bush. They love national parks, they ride mountain bikes, they ski, they bushwalk, they’re bird watchers, they love to 4WD.

“I’m sure many of them would love to be involved in these sorts of teams.”

That is how I came to be a volunteer firefighter – watching areas I know and love in the high country burn more and more often. Living in regional Victoria, I was able to sign on with the CFA. But my friends in Melbourne can’t – yet they love the high country as much as I do and many would be willing to chip in and help.

Climate change is supercharging fire seasons. It is putting new burdens on existing firefighters and their families and on state budgets. Providing opportunities for city based people to volunteer their time in firefighting efforts would be a smart response to the reality of longer and more intense fire seasons.

If you’re interested in finding out more, there is a proposal here.


Above: fire on the Dargo High Plains, March 2019.