Doubling the fuel load doubles the rate of spread and ­increases intensity fourfold

Fires: Doubling the fuel load doubles the rate of spread and ­increases intensity fourfold. By Graham Lloyd.

Christine Finlay has been sounding the alarm on bushfires in Australia for more than a decade after tracking the relationship ­between reduced cool burning and the frequency of firestorms. And the Queensland-based fire ­researcher, who charted a century of archival bushfire records for her PhD, has long been screaming danger.

Finlay’s thesis examined problem bushfires between 1881 and 1981. What she found after plotting the historical data on a graph was that there was a marked increase in the size and frequency of fires after 1919. This was when bushfire-reduction operations increasingly moved away from traditional indigenous practices such as low-­intensity cool burning.

Finlay says this ­detailed correlation between the accumulation of catastrophic fuel loads and the frequency of extreme bushfires made it possible to forecast the dramatic increase in firestorms we have seen in the 21st century.

“For years, I energetically sent this predictive model to government agencies, in particular bushfire services, the media, coronial and parliamentary inquiries and so on,” she says. “Horribly ­ignored, it proved horribly accurate.”

It’s not rocket science

Finlay has the support of forester Vic Jurskis, who has written a book on fire stick ecology and how indigenous Australians managed the landscape with fire.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, premiers, chief ministers and opposition leaders in November, Jurskis said this season’s ­bushfire situation was neither ­unprecedented nor unexpected.

“This latest holocaust is a direct consequence of unprecedented accumulation of 3D continuous fuels as a result of green influence on politics,” Jurskis says. “It’s all about fuel, not climate.”

Half a century ago, Athol Hodgson, who later became chief fire officer of Victoria, explained the simple physics: doubling the available fuel usually doubles the rate of spread of the fire and ­increases its intensity fourfold.

Jurskis says control burning over large areas cheaply and effectively reduces the incidence of high-intensity wildfires and minimises damage.

Sacking the state premiers of NSW and Victoria will ensure that fuel loads will stay low in future. If they were stupid enough to listen to the greens, that’s their fault. Let it be a warming to others.

Letting these people dictate policies was not wise: