The recent bushfires in Australia have been devastating in many areas and it is a source for much debate as to whether or not humans are to blame. The death toll has now reached a staggering 210. There are many different issues that contribute to the devastation of bush fires including climate change due to global warming. This has resulted in the surface temperature of the earth to increase by an average of 5 degrees every 100 years. Another possible cause of the fires was the recent heat wave experience by Australia with temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius in some areas. Some human issues have also increased the risk of devastation such as poor planning and a lack of preparation, which can be blamed on the Australian government, showing that humans could be to blame for this catastrophe. Also, an issue that had much debate that surrounds it is the possibility that the fires were started by arsonists.
Recently, Australia has experienced a high amount of urbanisation on the coast and many of the cities are now largely populated. This has lead to more people moving to the rural-urban fringe due to the high demand for land in the urban, coastal areas. This means that a large number of people live near to bush areas and are therefore more vulnerable to be attacked by bushfire due to hot summers and dry land. There is a lack of building restrictions in this area and therefore there is a growth of people moving to the area which in turn means that more lives are at risk from the bushfires.
The urbanisation near the bush and high risk areas links to the fact that there are poor planning laws and lack of preparation. Residents have complained about the lack of warning systems in the area. They complain that there were given little or “no warning that terrifying walls of flame were racing towards them.” This has caused the catastrophic loss of life as many residents were unaware of the danger approaching them until it hit. The Government in Canberra has said that the fire procedures will have to urgently be reviewed in order to prevent this devastating loss of life from occurring again. The only warning that the residents were given of the fast approaching fires were the screams of nearby neighbours fleeing their homes. There was also a lack of shelters for the evacuees to go to prevent more loss of life. This also links to the lack of education about what to do in the face of such a hazard and about building in high-fire-risk areas. More fire precautions in the house should be introduced and better education about the risks.
The Australian Government could also be to blame due to the “burn-offs” that the government use to try and reduce the fuel for fires to burn. If these were not carefully controlled they could have had the opposite effect and directly caused the fire, quickly spiraling out of control before anything could be done to stop. The aim to burn off leaf litter which could potentially accentuate a bush fire as there would be a lot of fuel for the fire to burn from – making it harder for the authorities to tackle. This has been a success in recent years but due to the land being dry from environmental factors, it is increasingly easy for one of these “burn-offs” to get out of control. They would be a huge risk in the current conditions of Australia because the conditions are very hot, dry and windy due to the recent heat wave to hit Australia. The fires could spread really easily due to the high winds and get easily out of control. Also, careless workers could leave embers that could easily become large fires again. This suggests that humans are to blame for the huge devastation because the “burn-offs” could have been the direct cause. This also links to the lack of preparation to respond in such a crisis.
The most likely and widely accepted cause of the recent bushfires is arson attacks from individuals throughout Australia and in Victoria in particular. The police believe that arsons began at least two of the fires, and restarted two others after they had been successfully put out by the authorities. Many of the burnt-out towns have been declared as crime scenes and police investigators from all over the country are working to prove that the fires were in fact started by arsonists. On 12th February, a 39 year old man was arrested and charged with arson causing death for lighting a fire that caused the death of at least 21 people in eastern Victoria. However, with regards to the other fires, it will be very hard to gain concrete evidence to charge specific people, especially with restarting the fires because the embers could have been burning under the vegetation and could have restarted of their own accord.
However, there are also environmental risks that could have caused such devastation including the Indian Sea Dipole (IOD) – the irregular warming and cooling of the south of the Indian Ocean. It changes the amount of moisture and evaporation from the sea and therefore the amount of precipitation that occurs. Droughts have been linked to this recently discovered phenomenon and this could describe the recent dry, hot summers in Australia contributing to the rapid spread of the fires.
Similar to the IOD in terms of environmental impact is the effects of an El Niï¿½o event. This is described by random anomalies in sea temperature between 2 and 7 years at irregular intervals lasting anything up to about 2 years. It can have serious impacts such as flooding in some places and drought in others, much like the predicted impacts of climate change in the future. This is linked to the fires in Australia because a recent El Niï¿½o event occurring around December 2008 could have changed the sea temperature and links to the droughts in Australia. Even if the fires were caused by human factors such as arson, the fact that the land was dry would have increased the spread of fire.
There has also been a recent heat wave to hit Australia where the temperatures soared to about 40 degrees Celsius on most days and previous temperature records were smashed. There were very dry conditions, high winds and little rain, which could all significantly add to the spread of the bushfires, making them all the more devastating. Also, the fact that Australia has been suffering in its fifth year drought, which also contributes to the devastation of the fires. The average rainfall has reached its lowest since 1900, proving the dry conditions that would have made the fire ever more devastating.
Another environmental factor increasing the devastation of the bushfires was that fact that Eucalypt trees are notorious for the oil in their trunks that is highly flammable, meaning that they burn and then can regenerate better after a fire. This is good for the ecosystems but not for the humans trying to control the spread of the fires. Their bark burns extremely easily due to the eucalyptus oil with them and therefore cause the more rapid spread of the fire. This means that people are not warned of the fires quickly approaching them due to the speed at which the fires are moving. The trees also grow together, meaning that the fire can easily jump from tree to tree, very quickly and very easily.
A further possible cause to increase the devastation of the fires is the current climate change being experience globally. Weather hazards are more frequent and many areas such as Australia are at high risk of drought – making the land dry where fire can easily spread. Even if humans were the immediate cause of the fires, the dry land and hot weather conditions would have certainly added to the problem, and the devastation of the fires, due to them being easily spread. However, saying that as it is due to climate change that humans are less to blame, this is not the case. Climate change is being worsened by the release of harmful greenhouse gases and CFC’s into the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels by humans. These gases trap rays from the sun meaning that the Earth heats up and bushfires are becoming are more regular occurrence.
The recent bushfires in Australia could be blamed on a number of different reasons, but together they all link together and have enhanced the devastation. Humans are to blame due to arsonists, uncontrollable “burn-offs” and the lack of preparation to deal with such a crisis. This in turn led to people not being able to escape because there were no early warning systems. In some states, people were told to stay and protect their homes which had serious consequences for many families who did not flee when they had the chance. However, the environmental issues also had serious impacts on the devastation because if the area was cold and wet, the fires would have been more easily stopped. Arsonists can easily be blamed as the immediate cause of the fires, but maybe not so much for the devastation caused. The fires were spread quickly by the flammable Eucalypts and the land was dry and the climate windy due to recent climate change, the heat wave, the recent El Niï¿½o event and the Indian Ocean Dipole. It is easily to argue whether human issues or environmental issues are to blame for the devastation, and it is very hard to pinpoint an exact answer.