They have been all over the news, the bushfires in Australia. No wonder, because they can be very catastrophical.
But one should realise that bushfires belong to the Australian eco-system. Before the Europeans set foot ashore here the Aboriginals used it as a means to improve their hunting results. Reports from early discoverers state that the coasts that they were seeing were very often covered in smoke. The white settlers have stopped this massive burning, which has resulted in forrests that are much denser than they were at the time of their arrival. Travelling through the new continent in the forrested areas was only possible because – at the time – the forrest was much more open than they are now.
There are plants which seeds will not sprout if not exposed to the heat of a bushfire and without bushfires the layer of organic material on the forrest floor will become so thick that the seeds of many species would not be able to shoot. So bushfires are normal and necessary and in Australian forrestry controlled burning is a normal activity.
But when man comes in and when he starts building settlements problems arise. The forrest are more dense and when conditions are bad, f.i. when it's very hot and dry and there is a strong wind fires will get out of control. And this is what we see on television.
There is a great awareness and alertness here towards bushfires. Sings along the roads, total fire bans, special legislation and a thorough organisation of the fire brigades. You will notice it everywhere.
Now we are sometimes receiving emails from friends who are afraid that we would be in danger because of this. Well, we are not and we hope this will remain the case. It's good to realise that Australia is the size of Europe, so the chance that we are somewhere near a bushfire is not very big. Still: there are fires raging now in areas that we have passed through and we will most likely see the results of the big fire that hit Donally, because we think we will reach this area in a week or two. More close: yesterday and the day before, near Stanley, we could see one. Clouds of smoke coming from a mountain range and helicopters with the big water bags below them. But that was all, we saw it in the distance and where we were life went on as usual. In the local newspaper there were stories of people that had been evacuated, from the fire fighters using a certain pub as their canteen and base and things like that.
All in all; bush fires are a common phenomenon, they can become catastrophic and there are many of them. But this is such a vast continent that chances that you will be personally effected are very small.