Fire devastates wilderness around Lake Mackenzie

Stefan Kadareanu and James Darbyshire both of Hornsby Brigade NSW

Fire devastates wilderness around Lake Mackenzie

February 2016

WHILE THE recent downpour received in Meander Valley was welcomed after an extended dry period, the ongoing threat of fire to communities close to the Western Tiers has not yet subsided.

Having burnt an estimated 25,266 hectares at the time this paper went to print, the damage to world heritage areas is substantial and in some cases irreparable while many communities remain on a ‘watch and act’ alert.

The fire was first reported in the early afternoon of 19th January.

Residents from Bracknell, Liffey, Jackey’s Marsh, Golden Valley, Meander, Dairy Plains, Caveside, Western Creek, Chudleigh, Mole Creek and Liena were given a ‘Watch and Act’ warning. For some, this was later upgraded to an emergency warning and many residents found alternative accommodation for themselves and their animals that night.

Meander Valley Council quickly responded by establishing an Emergency Evacuation Centre at the Deloraine Community Complex to provide information, registration and service support to affected residents.

The Evac Centre operated in partnership with Emergency Services, Red Cross and the Tasmania Health Service.

With more than 80 fires burning around the state Tas Fire Service resources were stretched to the limit.

Volunteer fire fighters from near and afar continue to put in many long hours to keep people and properties safe.

Smoke from the fires covered much of the north of Tasmania for almost a week, sending people wih breathing conditions scurrying indoors and bringing an eerie feeling of impending doom to the Meander Valley area.

Much of the fire was burning in areas difficult to access. Remote area teams and other crews from the mainland were brought in to assist.

Caveside resident and president of Friends of Great Western Tiers, Kooparoona Niara (aboriginal name of the Tiers), Deborah Hunter says that some of the areas that are burning will not regenerate after the fire, particularly those growing on peat soils.

“Peat soils consist entirely of accumulated organic matter.

They can take thousands of years to form and were not routinely burnt by the first Tasmanians, otherwise they would not be there,” comments Deborah and adds “Factors that coincided to cause these large fires include a record dry spring and early summer conditions followed by high frequency of forked lightning attack.

Deborah says our local water systems may be affected as a result of the fire.

“Extensive areas of peat exist on the Central Plateau, acting like a sponge, release water gradually to our streams and hydro storages. This is known as an ecosystem service. Should substantial areas of peat be burnt, the hydrology will be adversely effected.”

She also sees an impact on tourism not just locally but statewide.

“Ecosystems that are important to tourism branding will have been lost and the tourism asset degraded, making Tasmania less attractive.”

With these implications in mind, Deborah would like to see a more coordinated strategy in the approach to fires in wilderness areas saying “Experts from the various emergency services and Tasmanian fire ecology experts should meet to develop preventative, emergency response and remedial strategies that take into account the predicted increasing frequency and severity of extreme climatic events.”


 Mike Moores