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How to fight fire with fire


AUSTRALIAN fire-lighters come in six colours – yellow, black, white, blood red, dark green, and light green. All are relevant to bushfires and forest management.

‘Yellow’ is the fire-lighter that has been with us for ever. It is the yellow flash of lightning which has always ignited the Australian bush. We’re dreaming to think we can lock yellow fire out of parks, forests and heritage areas. But good forest management can reduce the ferocity and destruction of lightning-strike fires.

‘Black’ fire-lighters came with the first Australians. Without matches or tinder boxes, they probably captured the fire genie from a lightning fire. Or they carried it here on clay hearths on the floor of their canoes. They valued this magic tool for warmth, cooking, insect control, vegetation clearing, animal trapping and fighting enemies. Some learned how to light fires using heat generated by friction, but this was a slow, laborious process and it was far easier to preserve and carry fire in a burning fire-stick. To keep these sticks alight or to light a new one as they travelled, nomadic parties on the plains and deserts renewed them periodically by setting fire to a clump of dry vegetation. Then they moved on. They lit fires for many reasons, anywhere, at any time. They tried to keep out of the way of fires, and were known to redirect mild grassland fires but never tried to put them out. This continuous mosaic of small fires created the magnificent grasslands and open forests that Europeans admired when they first arrived. Aboriginal fire management followed no central plan, but it worked, making most lives and forests safer.

‘White’ fire-lighters were introduced by the next wave of settlers – the British, bringing matches, flints and tinder boxes. They marvelled at the grasslands and open forests they found, and learned about bushfires as the ‘yellow’ and ‘black’ fire-lighters were still operating.  Soon the sheep and cattle of the squatters were flourishing on the fresh nutritious pastures of frequently burned land. The squatters learned two new skills to protect their pastures, flocks, herds, stock-yards, wool sheds and homesteads. Firstly, reduce fire loads and encourage new grass using cool season burning. Secondly, when faced with invading fires, fight fire with fire – back-burn from station tracks, freshly burned bush or creeks towards the invading fire. We need to relearn these valuable lessons.

‘Blood red’ fire-lighters are carried by the fire vandals – the arsonists. The greater the fire danger, and the more headlines it creates, the more active are these pyromaniacs.

‘Light green’ fire-lighters were developed in the 1960s and 1970s for professional foresters to protect forests with prescribed burning. These marvellous tools were banned by political fools, and are hard to procure today.

Finally Australia was burdened with the ‘dark green’ fire-lighter – an imported tool that almost never works. Deep Greens keep their lighters permanently in their pockets and never light anything except token fires in small areas, tofu-burger barbecues or their pretentious Earth Day candles. Their attempt to lock out all fire creates a huge load of forest fuel, with dead wood, leaves, bark and weeds on the ground and vines and suckers between the trees. And neighbours living in fear of the inevitable fire-storm.

What should we do?

First, ban the defective dark green fire-lighters, jail arsonists caught using blood-red fire-lighters for thrills or malevolence, and learn to live with yellow lightning strike fires.

Second, mandate the use of the light green fire-lighter – an improved version of the black and white models used by aboriginals and squatters. Use them to remove fuel load with cool season burning. When fire comes, use them to fight fire with fire.

Give light green fire-lighters to all practical foresters, landowners, fire wardens and local bushfire managers – they will safely abolish the dark green nightmare of massive wildfires.

With so much land burnt, now is the perfect time to make sure it does not happen again in those areas. Kick out the bureaucrats and the Deep Greens and put rangers, foresters, property owners and local fire wardens in charge.

Have a burn plan and stick to it.

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