Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


Wilderness fortunes and Rural Public Health







On the 15th January 2016 a Public Health warning was issued for the town of Smithton to expect harmful levels of bushfire smoke. Dry lightning strikes on the 13th January caused over 30 bushfires in the western part of Tasmania, and the prevailing wind conditions pushed that smoke into the far northwest, towards a scattered population of 8000 people.

Aside from this Public Health warning, no apparent active intervention on the fires responsible occurred at this time. The air quality of Smithton is monitored by the BLANkET program (Environmental Protection Agency Tasmania, 2013), the machinery is located on a hill about 1km southeast of the town centre.

Given that there is no ‘safe’ level of such pollution, the safe level of small smoke particles is zero. A smoky winter’s evening in Launceston or Hobart might measure a PM2.5 of 50. The PM2.5 level in Smithton peaked at 974 over the next few days, and continued to more or less spike every few days over the next month, with concentration elevations around the 25th-27th January.

The data from this program, however, only tells a fraction of the story, as it will not monitor the smoke levels in other parts of the region. The effects of this pollution on the dispersed population in the remoter areas of Circular Head have no such record except photographs and reports of residents struggling more or less every day for a month.

The wilderness area (now known as The Tarkine/takayna and/or the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area, and the Western Tasmanian Aboriginal Heritage Area) surrounding the Circular Head rural and residential zones is mostly a “fire adapted” set of ecosystems with highly flammable buttongrass heathlands, and the remaining native eucalypt forests interspersed amongst forestry fire-regenerated regrowth and eucalypt plantations.

Most of the original, generally fire-resistant rainforest in this region is long gone, cleared for farmland or as a result of forestry operations. Added to this, the conditions in January were horrifically dry – the worst on record, and it set the stage for a dangerous wildfire situation.

These wilderness fires continued to expand in a predictable fashion (given the forecast wind conditions, vegetation types and fuel dryness), to where in addition to smoke risks, both firefighters and locals were compelled to risk their lives defending property, and “the biggest mobilisation of interstate resources ever seen” occurred to deal with the consequences (Langenberg, 2016). Over 80 thousand hectares had burnt over 4 weeks.

It is well known that there is no safe level of bushfire smoke exposure. The combustion of native fire-adapted vegetation and peat soils “…has a higher load of toxic ingredients – hydrocarbons, volatile organic acids – that in their own right are highly irritating… with peat fires you tend to have a bigger exposure and you tend to have an exposure that goes on for longer” (Mitchell, 2016).

The effects are not only suffered by the frail, or those with pre-existing respiratory ailments or those prone to allergies. The effects are felt by anything with mucosal membranes – healthy people, livestock, wildlife. These are fine particles which remain suspended in the air for prolonged periods, and so small they penetrate deeply into the narrowest air passages in the lungs. These particles irritate on contact – setting of an inflammatory reaction as the body tries to defend itself against the toxic particles – we are all familiar with stinging, watery eyes, running nose, cough, and perhaps a wheezy chest. Also affected are lips, mouth, tongue and throat with burning and stinging sensations.

Anyone not in perfect health will suffer further complications upon exposure – it is documented that more deaths and heart attacks have occurred in Melbourne and Sydney on days where there is bushfire smoke pollution (Johnstone F. , 2013).

The inflammatory effect of these irritant particles may just be the last straw for people with heart disease, emphysema, severe asthma, vascular disease or other inflammatory, allergic and autoimmune diseases. Young babies have increased risk due to the immature and narrow air passages in their lungs which are more easily clogged with the direct inflammatory response.

Therefore it is imperative that the public are warned and given advice on appropriate action to reduce their exposure to this toxic pollution. Currently the Director of Public Health advises (Veitch, 2016):

1. If you are in a smoke affected area, reduce your exposure to smoke by staying inside; closing doors, vents and windows, and switching air conditioners to re-circulate.

2. Avoid physical activity if it is smoky outdoors.

3. People are at greater risk of include those with lung and heart conditions, chronic medical conditions, young children and the elderly. Pregnant women should minimise their exposure to smoke.

4. If you have asthma, you should follow your plan, check you have enough medication, and carry your relieving puffer with you.

5. If you have a medical condition and your symptoms get worse despite your usual medications, seek urgent medical advice.

6. If you must travel in smoke, drive slowly with your headlights on.

Residents of Circular Head needed to heed this more or less every day for at least a month, and counting. This is unworkable. People still have to go to work – and in a rural area, that means many are working outside, facing an environmental and occupational hazard. Students still need to attend school. People still need to go grocery shopping. Even with all windows and doors and vents closed, there were reports of indoor smoke detectors still going off.

People had to choose between closing up their homes during the hottest time of the year or open them up for ventilation and toxic smoke if they did not have air conditioning. In this cool, maritime climate not everyone has the luxury of air conditioning. And much of the population may well not be able to afford it. Prolonged exposure to toxic bushfire and peat smoke is simply not avoidable over such a long period. Perhaps P2 particle filtering masks should have been distributed for this community.

Additionally, the livestock, including those pregnant and their more vulnerable young, are also at exactly the same health impacts. Reports of dairy cattle coughing up carbonaceous phlegm, milk production dropping off, herds disinclined to eat the ash coated grass. One can only imagine what the terrestrial and arboreal wildlife, and their young, in the fire zones endured.

Many were likely overcome with respiratory distress, exhaustion, suffocation and died in the flames. No doubt survivors of the initial ordeal will go on to suffer illness, infection, burns, and difficulty finding food, or indeed drinkable water. Tragically many more will die a lingering death. Amongst those lost will be valuable individuals of the endangered Tasmanian Devil and the other rare or threatened mammals – the Eastern Quoll, Spotted tail quoll, Southern Barred Bandicoot and Broad toothed rat.

In addition to the acute physical effects of peat and bushfire smoke pollution, chronic effects in humans, are also well documented. Johnstone has identified that such events cause, and exacerbate chronic lung conditions, heart disease and cancers which lead to early deaths (Johnstone & Henderson et al, 2012). Such diseases can be regarded as preventable conditions if exposures are limited or avoided. Circular Head is on the record for having the highest levels of preventable cardiovascular disease and lung cancers (Tasmania Medicare Local, 2012). Hence the strong Public Health warning to the residents of this already burdened area.

Health is not limited to physical health. One must consider and recognize the other risks inherent in a bushfire crisis which adversely impact health, wellbeing and lifespan from a holistic perspective. Debilitating consequences include PTSD, anxiety, depression (which may well be already well established in rural areas experiencing drought like conditions) (Ghallagher, 2016). The acute fire-fighting episode is particularly stressful for relatives of those on the frontline and for community members in at risk locations. This is one of the reasons why timely, reliable and regular local communications are essential not just for operational efficacy and safety, but for the entire community to be in the loop regarding events as they unfold.

Financial stressors of such a crisis weigh in heavily on people as well (Turner, 2016). Economic stress is suffered through property and asset losses, damage caused by the fire fighting efforts, or smoke pollution. Circular Head’s forestry, dairy, apiary and tourism industries were all heavily affected by the month long ordeal. The fortunes of this district clearly rely on the wilderness ecosystem services which provide the region with its unparalleled brand of premium dairy, beef, crops and honey.

The fires consumed an incredible amount of forestry resource – adding stress to those in the industry already under pressure from pre-existing economic issues. Honey producers similarly lost production units and access to natural resource. Tourism operators and associated industry saw tourists clear out overnight and stay away for weeks, at the height of the season. The entire Tarkine Drive has been closed for much of that time after a very promising start to its role in promoting the region’s natural appeal.

With these well-known health and welfare impacts, as well as those all of Australia is rapidly having to learn in this climate of increased, extreme bushfires, some pressing questions must be addressed urgently:

Are the usual approaches and procedures regarding the identification, risk analysis and mitigating wildfires still relevant and consistent with the available evidence?

An independent inquiry into the current situation (from fire season preparations through to the response timeframe from emergency services, and those of communications both centralized and decentralized, interagency and community through to debriefing and recovery) would be a sound way to determine whether there are better approaches.

Echoing many of the diverse stakeholder voices now raising concern over the management of this statewide bushfire crisis, blame is not the outcome sought. Critical determination is required of current flaws and outdated protocols, in order to limit and prevent the magnitude of health, wellbeing and safety risk which the case of Circular Head demonstrates. Prevention is better than cure. The health, wellbeing and fortunes of rural regions is intertwined and reliant upon the health and fortunes of its surrounding wilderness.


Environmental Protection Agency Tasmania. (2013). Base Line Air Network of EPA Tasmania . Retrieved February 17, 2016, from EPA Tasmania: http://epa.tas.gov.au/epa/base-line-air-network-of-epa-tasmania-blanket

Ghallagher, H. C. (2016). Mental Health Following Seperation in a Disaster: the Role of Attatchment. Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Johnstone, F. (2013, October 19). What you can do about the impact of bushfire smoke. Retrieved February 6, 2016, from The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/what-you-can-do-about-the-health-impact-of-bushfire-smoke-19333

Johnstone, F., Henderson, S. B., & et al. (2012). Estimated global mortality attributable to smoke from landscape fires. Environmental Health Perspectives, 120(5), 695-701.

Langenberg, A. (2016, February 14). Help arrives on fires. Retrieved February 14, 2016, from The Advocate: http://www.theadvocate.com.au/story/3727131/help-arrives-on-fires/

Mitchell, T. (2016, February 10). Tasmania’s Burning Peatlands Could Take Some Of Us With Them. Retrieved February 17, 2016, from New Matilda: https://newmatilda.com/2016/02/10/tasmanias-burning-peatlands-take-us/

Tasmania Medicare Local. (2012, April). Primary Health Indicators Tasmania Report. Retrieved February 17, 2016, from Primary Health Tasmania:

Turner, R. (2016, February 14). What we lose to the flames. Retrieved February 14, 2016, from ABC: http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-14/the-cost-of-bushfires-to-communities/7156782

Veitch, M. (2016, January 28). Bushfire Smoke: Key messages and information sources. Retrieved January 28, 2016

*Dr Nicole Anderson is a Rural Medical Practitioner in Smithton, having lived and worked there for 10+ years. She volunteers when able with the SES Remote Area Search and Rescue Team and is also a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. Nicole currently assists and consults for groups, expeditions and individuals wishing to explore the Tarkine and surrounding regions, having herself extensive experience in running, cycling, hiking, exploring and photographing this region. She has also recently completed a vegetation survey in the Norfolk Range, adding to the Natural Values knowledge base for this area. She wishes to express heartfelt gratitude to Dr Helen Robertson and Dr Anna Spinaze for their thoughts and constructive criticism in preparing opinions for public viewing. Academic Qualifications: BNurs;MBBS(Qld);FRACGP;GradDipDiv;FAWM

Karl Satire

• Clive Stott in Comments thanks Dr Nic … and provides a guide to surviving the smoke …

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. Keith Antonysen

    February 27, 2017 at 9:56 pm

    No 2, Graeme.
    When I was a young person selected trees were felled and the rest of the forest was left. Where I lived there were a number of saw mills employing a significant number of people. Timber was valued as were forests.

    Clear felling leads to micro climates being created which are more susceptible to bush fires. Not an opinion but a point made by science.

    Now, forests are trashed with significant negative results.

  2. Robin Charles Halton

    February 26, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    #25 Simon Warriner, I had not looked at this article over the past few days, basically Teds answer is right.

    SDI is used since 1972 when it was devised by former FC Forester / Fire management CEO Tony Mount to gauge the state of soil moisture in areas of forest cover throughout Tasmania, using rainfall to come up with a number.

    The Index over 50 fires can burn over night, except if there is recent rain.
    Having an SDI of between 25 and 50, with suitable range of RH%, wind and temperature ca be used to determine the best opportunities for spring burning.

    SDI’s above 100 and rising can spell serious problems in the event of wildfires that can along with severe fire weather significantly increase FDR’s, this is what we have seen recently on the NW Coast for the first time in many decades.

    Current SDI’s are noted on the TFS site, I am not sure where past records are kept but it would be handy information.
    I constantly check SDI’s over summer to determine safety in the bush,there are persons who still light fires close to where I cut firewood on State Forest or where we decide to go camping.

    #28 Simon, FT will have to assess the timber damage coupe by coupe, most likely younger regeneration killed by the fires will have to be aerially resown that is still the normal silvicultural practice as far as I know.

    I have already factored in the possible future wildfire regimes at 30-50 year, we’ll see what Prof Bowman from UTAS whose research seems to getting more to the point comes up with as climate change rapidly takes control.

  3. Simon Warriner

    February 25, 2016 at 9:31 pm

    re 27, thanks Ted.

    Robin, now that the rain forest species are all burnt up I guess they will be replaced by eucs, making those areas more fire prone?

    If it is dryer in the future, won’t your confidently predicted safe period be shorter, and have you taken that into account in your prediction of 30 to 50 years of fire respite.

    I note that the Dip Range, according to local knowledge, has not had a fire through it for over 70 years, likewise the Inglis and Jesse, not sure about the Arthur valley. Those are of interest to me because there is nothing but plantations around them and when they go up it will not be pretty, especially with a howling NWester.

  4. Ted Mead

    February 25, 2016 at 8:12 pm

    #25 Simon

    SDI = Soil Dryness Index
    For example – Places in Northwest Tas had a SDI of about 150 over summer.
    This essentially means that it will take approximately 150mm of rain to make the soil saturated again.

  5. Claire Gilmour

    February 23, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    You’re right Simon, I saw it (the fire – in the mawbanna area – doubling in size nearly every day on the website), I assumed that all that info as it developed would be freely available in the future. (It should still be there – and it should be able to be requested? ) My concern comes from being community based, a continuation from the last big fire in the area. I mean one of the councillors from Smithton said in the fire prep talk they gave us a few months ago … not to worry too much, that there was crayfish given for free to those who chose to go/leave the Montumana/Rocky Cape area and go to Stanley. So of course that must be one of the most important things to consider! Ironically her place was well in the firing line this time … perhaps I should have offered some rare and endangered giant freshwater lobster, to make her feel better!!!

  6. Simon Warriner

    February 23, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    Halton at 16 calls the requested inquiry into the response to the current bush fires politically motivated.

    He is dead wrong, in my case at least.

    My call for the inquiry is motivated by my observance over several years of the operation of our lead fire emergency agency and the undue delay taken, in the face of “unprecedented” events, to call for assistance. Assistance that was available and would have been far more effectively applied to smaller fires at an earlier stage. In observing this organisation at close range I have seen behavior and acts that point to a very twisted organisational psychology. It is that I will be addressing when I appear before the current parliamentary committee looking at the State Fire Commission on Wednesday next week at 1620hrs. I will be urging an inquiry into the 6 day delay.

    Mr Halton talks of the rapid escalation of the fires in the Circular Head region here:
    “This year it was the north of the State, in particular Circular Head in drought conditions with SDI’s of 150 then multiple lightening strikes in native vegetation with high fuel loads with severe fire weather to quickly create inferno’s beyond any known method by mankind to initiate safe suppression tactics”.

    I suggest he contact some of his still serving mates in FT and get hold of the maps that show the growth of the Sumac Road/Dempster Plains fire.

    I would have saved the maps on the TFS website, but didn’t seem to be able to copy them..

    I seem to recall 40 hectares, then 400 hectares, then 4000 and I was checking at the end of each day. Growing, and rapidly so, but what effort, exactly, was made in the first two days?

    And what is an SDI?

    FDI for forest fire danger of anything greater than 100 would be catastrophic according to the TFS website and my recall of that day does not include anything other than high fire danger.

  7. Keith Antonysen

    February 23, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Thank you Dr Anderson for having written an excellent insightful paper about the complexities of the bush fires we have experienced.

    No 16, Robin, I think everybody is very thankful to our Firies and those who have come from New Zealand and Interstate to help.

    You mentioned climate change at No 20, in hindsight the West Coast was primed for bush fires with lack of precipitation since winter and quite warm weather for many months. Greater consideration in how to deal with this matter is required. The 2016 fires present a good case for CSIRO to retain the scientists management wish to retrench.

    An enquiry into preliminary weather/climate events of 2015 and how to be prepared much quicker than happened in 2016 is necessary in my opinion. The enquiry needs to involve Tasmanian citizens as well as Agencies to be better prepared from day 1 of a fire event in the future. The suggestion being consistent with the request by the State Government seeking a response to their Draft Climate change document. We experienced completely unusual circumstances and so need an open assessment to be prepared for the future.

    Ways to provide information to tourists needs to be considered; to push hard for tourists who wish to cancel their travel plans is a vexed point. Many tourists are elderly, or might have respiratory problems; it is highly irresponsible to push hard for tourists to continue their travel plans at a time when air quality is poor.


  8. Karl Stevens

    February 23, 2016 at 12:01 am

    Thanks Claire Gilmour (21,22) for reproducing Gutweins Forestry update.
    This is the ‘Gutwein Forestry Magic Pudding’ vision that assumes unlimited resource capabilities into perpetuity, from an island at the end of the Earth.
    It’s actually the hallucination of fevered brain but it’s also a government meal ticket to a life on the gravy train.
    I know for a fact that Gutwein himself knows it’s an illusion.
    Why would evolution spend billions of years developing an ecosystem just so some duck-billed opportunist like Gutwein can blow it all on his own diseased version of ‘reality’?
    For me 2016 looks like being the ‘War On Gutwein’. He’s had a free lunch with me and he knows what to expect.

  9. Claire Gilmour

    February 22, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    [Cont …]

    I also want to place firmly on the record my desire to see biomass become a part of this solution and not just biomass from sawmill residues or arisings in our forests but also biomass generated in both domestic and agricultural settings as well.

    The other two high priorities directly involve Forestry Tasmania – they being ensuring that Forestry Tasmania is on a financially sustainable footing, and of course, securing FSC certification for that business.

    We announced last year that following the comprehensive Forestry Tasmania Review undertaken by the Government’s Steering Committee and supported by Deloitte, that Forestry Tasmania would transition to a composite operating model – under which it would remove itself from parts of the value chain, and free up the opportunity for the private sector to increase its involvement in the sector where this delivers better outcomes for both sectors.

    Working through the detail on the new operating model for Forestry Tasmania is complex however good progress is being made and at an accelerating rate. The first half of 2016 is a key period in bedding down the details of a sustainable transition path for Forestry Tasmania. I expect to provide further clarity on this model before I hand down the budget but want to make it very clear now that I see Forestry Tasmania remaining as a Government business albeit one that has a sustainable financial pathway into the future.

    In relation to the FSC certification process, several points have been very clear for a long while, namely:

    FSC is a complex process;
    Forestry Tasmania does not expect to be granted FSC certification first go (as this would be unprecedented for an operation of FT’s complexity); and
    the Audit Report is a progress report (rather than an absolute ‘yes’ or ‘no’).

    I will be in a position to have more to say in detail about the recently received Audit Report after it has been considered by the Forestry Tasmania Board later this week. What I can say at this stage is that it is highly pleasing that the vast majority of the FSC certification criteria are being met by Forestry Tasmania but there will be further work to do.

    It is my expectation that Forestry Tasmania will release as much of the Audit Report as possible, while protecting commercial-in-confidence and personal stakeholder details, after the report has been properly considered.

  10. Claire Gilmour

    February 22, 2016 at 9:31 pm

    A copy of an email I received last night from Forestry Tasmania, which incidentally was signed by no-one! Nor was it addressed to the usual … Dear stakeholder. It also didn’t have the usual disclaimer attached ie, not to copy or share. One wonders why I’m receiving political government response via an email from Forestry Tasmania?? Are the liberal party, the government and Forestry Tas interchangeable? When did Peter Gutwein become a board member of Forestry? Or do FT just pick and choose which government or political party media titbits they’d like to email people? Hmmm? But thanXs to whoever it was who sent it, FT? or other? Thought you’d forgotten about me!
    Did anyone else last night receive the same email as a registered FT stakeholder? I will formulate a reply in due course, just not sure who I should send it too?? Maybe a FT or liberal party spin doctor, maybe Marty Gilmour!?!?

    Sent: Monday, 22 February 2016 5:43 PM
    To: seemour@bigpond.com
    Subject: Stakeholder update – Comments from the new Minister for Forestry

    Dear Claire

    Today the new Minister for Forestry, Peter Gutwein gave a speech to the Committee for Economic Development (CEDA). As part of his political and economic overview he spoke about the forest industry and Forestry Tasmania.

    As an interested stakeholder we thought you may be interested in what he had to say.

    Please see the relevant extract from his speech below.

    Extract from the 2016 Political and Economic Overview for CEDA

    It was a privilege to be appointed by the Premier as the Minister for Forestry and to have the opportunity to continue the very good work that retired Minister Paul Harriss has begun.

    The first phase of our Plan for the forestry sector was to secure the forest resource and to stabilise the industry.

    Minister Harriss delivered on Phase one – the job destroying forestry deal has been torn up, the strongest workplace protection laws in the country have been introduced to protect Tasmanian jobs and the industry is once again growing.

    The second phase is to grow the overall industry and see real jobs growth. As Forestry Minister, I am determined to position our forest industry for the future. And when I use the term industry, I’m talking about a lot more than the publicly owned native forests and sawmilling sectors which while being central, are only part of the overall forestry industry. This Government is looking to secure a brighter future for the whole of the sector – the private native timber growers, private investors in hardwood and softwood plantations, the businesses that support forest operations and, of key importance, downstream processes that generate the value that flows right back through the supply chain.

    In my view, the single biggest change that will unlock the potential of our public and private forest resource is the development of higher value uses of the timber that they produce. Innovation and development are of central importance to drive up the value of our resource, and to deliver the investment and jobs we are looking for from the sector. Accordingly, my emphasis as Minister will be to look forward, and work with the private sector to identify and deliver value-creating opportunities.

    In the immediate term, a lot of my focus will be given to working through the results of the southern residues EOI process, which saw round 2 bids close last week. I was very pleased that of the original 15 proposals that we were working with 10 proposals have been further developed and remain in the process across a range of options and applications none of which by the way contemplate a woodchip pile on Macquarie wharf.

    Identifying the best prospects of the 10 proposals lodged is my top priority, as implementing both short, and longer-term solutions for the residues being generated from forestry activity – both from the public and private resource base is a key plank of putting Forestry Tasmania onto a sustainable financial footing, and also removing a key constraint for the industry in the South of the State.

    [Cont …]

  11. Robin Charles Halton

    February 22, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    Statistically the eucalypt forests in Circular Head should not burn again for another 30-50 years now that a major wildfire has ripped through, unfortunately damaging regrowth forest and retained rainforest on wetter slopes and gullies excluded from logging.

    Hopefully there is enough seed from old growth eucalypts for natural rgeneration to fill in the gaps caused by fire damage to the younger regrowth.

    FT will have a big job ahead to access the damage to both its native forest and eucalypt plantation estate.

    With the effects of Climate Change running rampant will the natural fire cycle change to more frequent threat of fire that can cause further downgrade of future high quality production forests in the area as we know it today!

  12. Alison Bleaney

    February 22, 2016 at 10:39 am

    I trust that DHHS and the Secretary for Health will have budgeted for the increased health costs (including extra emergency, ward and ICU beds, staffing etc) that are and will be caused by the exposure to this air pollution in Tasmania. And then there are the social costs…The list goes on…Prevention is better than cure….

  13. mike seabrook

    February 22, 2016 at 10:15 am

    ask the question

    is this land an asset or a liability and to whom whilst it is in the commons –

    ie. the costs are to government/taxpayers/students/sick people/widows and orphans/and all others recipient of funds from the tassie treasury

    who benefits and who pays for the management, fire risk prevention , non-insurance or self-insurance by whom, and for the fire fighting and associated backburning and other costs and the mop up costs afterwards.

    i would think that the best remedy would be to flog the area off in chunks to the highest bidder at public auction to those who appreciate the property and would have the incentive and the financial and other resources to properly manage for all the risk events.

  14. Clive Stott

    February 22, 2016 at 2:36 am

  15. Robin Charles Halton

    February 22, 2016 at 12:44 am

    #14 Here we go, Senator Mc Kim and his Greenie Labor mate Lisa Singh screaming about TWWHA wildfire prevention measures.

    The forces of nature have no respect for politically motivated inquiries and nor do I for that matter when their is nothing to be gained.

    Its the luck of the draw where you live in Tasmania but sooner or later the red steer will strike by complete surprise somewhere within the State as it has done ever since settlement

    This year it was the north of the State, in particular Circular Head in drought conditions with SDI’s of 150 then multiple lightening strikes in native vegetation with high fuel loads with severe fire weather to quickly create inferno’s beyond any known method by mankind to initiate safe suppression tactics.

    Its the likes of McKim and his supporters that expect miracles from fire fighters and that pisses me off, it is not possible to figt fires under extreme conditions.

    While I admire the way the multi skilled Dr Nicholle Anderson cares for her badly smoke affected community there is nothing more that can be done other than maintaining fire containment and the eventual arrival of the winter rains to eventually extinguish the fires.

    Turning the unfortunate event into a political game as the Greens want to do will with constant criticism of the fire fighting response only add to their declining downfall by the next State election.

    Moorland burning expert Jon Marsden Smedley has the right idea, regular aerial burning of the entire swathe of wastelands from Circular Head to Cox’s Bight, this measure would save all of the unnecessary need for Remote Aerial Teams (RAT’s) to jump at every move when smoke is spotted within the TWWHA.

    Its all very well to talk about managing TWWHA’s, but in terms of budget priorities it will be at its lowest levels so far this century.

  16. Mike Adams

    February 21, 2016 at 10:43 pm

    My GPs, over a period of several decades, routinely asked if I had been a smoker. When I told them I had been a volunteer firefighter for twenty one years they seemed taken aback.

    They seem so indoctrinated to the evils of tobacco that the other sources of respiratory malfunction take a while to surface.

    And to all those dyed in the wool Tassie foresters and firefighters, telling us how it used to be, and how they have a lot to contribute, please GET OUT MORE. Tasmania’s firefighting problems are not unique. Other countries have a lot to offer.

    Malaysia is the most recent country to have bought Cl 415s. Mostly for maritime surveillance, as with Thailand, but preserving the fire suppressant facilities of other ‘water bombers’.

    With the price of one Lockheed F 35 strike fighter able to take on anyone, except, of course, the Chinese, approaching the price of three Canadair Cl 415s one does wonder at the Federal government’s priorities.

    Or does our Foreign Minister’s clout in negotiations with such entities depend more on our U.S.purchases than the ability of our own country’s fire services to deal with bushfires that threaten to grow more intense as the years roll on.

  17. Nick McKim MR posted by editor

    February 21, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    Senate Supports Independent Inquiry into Tasmanian World Heritage Area Bushfires
    22 February, 2016
    The Senate has today supported an independent inquiry into the fires in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.
    The motion notes the damage already done by the fires, and calls for an independent inquiry into the response to the fires, and to inform improved planning and preparation for future fires.
    “Only governments can establish the kind of inquiry this motion calls for, so the pressure is now firmly on Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman to take the issue seriously.”
    “We are already seeing the effects of global warming across Tasmania, and we need to prepare for our hot, dry summer to become the new normal,” Australian Greens Senator for Tasmania Nick McKim said.
    “The World Heritage Area contains ecosystems found nowhere else on the planet, and globally significant cultural and natural heritage values. It is also one of Tasmania’s most important and valuable tourism assets, and we need to learn lessons from the current crisis so that we can better protect it in the future.”
    “I visited the area with Senator Richard Di Natale last week, and we saw where charred landscapes have replaced ancient ecosystems that have stood since Gondwanan times.”
    “Some areas burned in the current fires are not fire adapted, and with long-term rainfall decrease in most Tasmanian alpine areas along with increased dry lightning strikes predicted, we’ve got a real problem on our hands.”
    “Our firefighters deserve the very best, and we need to be sure that we have the best possible planning and resources in place for next time.”
    The motion was initiated by Senator McKim, with Senator Lisa Singh joining as co-sponsor.

    Full text of the motion:
    That the Senate—
    (a) acknowledges the impact of recent fires on the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA);
    (b) notes that:
    – over 22 000 hectares inside the TWWHA has already been burned, and that many fires are still burning inside the TWWHA,
    – the Commonwealth Government is a signatory to the World Heritage Convention, which binds it to responsibly manage the TWWHA, and
    – scientists are predicting that it is likely that the TWWHA will experience hotter, drier conditions, and more dry lightning, in the future due to the impacts of global warming; and
    (c) calls on the Australian Government to work with the Tasmanian Government to establish and adequately resource an independent inquiry to examine the response to the current fires in the TWWHA, and the planning for, management of, and response to future fire events in the TWWHA, to seek submissions and hold public hearings, and to examine, report and make recommendations on relevant matters, including:
    (i) the impact of global warming on fire frequency and magnitude,
    (ii) the availability and provision of financial, human and mechanical resources,
    (iii) the adequacy of fire assessment and modelling capacity, and
    (iv) any other related matters deemed necessary by the inquiry.

  18. Luca Vanzino

    February 21, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    Graeme @ #2 wrote:

    “the sooner the general public wake up to this speak up & help get rid of them the better off we all will be.”

    What are you proposing?

    Vietnamese and Chinese re-education labour camps?

  19. john hayward

    February 21, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    What about the cumulative respiratory damage from the untold tonnes of logging waste burned every year on site, usually in reasonably calm weather that ensured a smoke haze for days and weeks?

    You had to find solace, or hoarse laughter, in FT’s reassurance that there was nil addition to greenhouse emissions since they planted or sowed new trees on the coupe.

    John Hayward

  20. Clive Stott

    February 21, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    Know when to seek medical attention
    • Those on medication should continue to take their medications as usual.
    • Asthmatics should follow their asthma management plan as developed by their family doctor in conjunction with themselves. Make sure you have you blue/grey reliever with you at all times.
    • If you are having difficulty breathing or think you are experiencing warning signs of a heart attack, call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance immediately.
    What about using a face mask?
    Simple paper and cloth masks do not protect you from fine particles or other toxins in smoke. Specialised disposable masks, often called “P2” respirators, available from most hardware stores, can reduce exposure to smoke particles if fitted correctly. However, they do not offer protection against the other toxic components of vegetation fire smoke.
    Use of a P2 mask might benefit individual people in some situations. They are not routinely recommended because many people, including children and men with beards, cannot achieve a good fit. They are often uncomfortable to wear and the filter system makes breathing more difficult.
    Generally, it is better to stay indoors to reduce your exposure to the smoke.
    March 2015

  21. Clive Stott

    February 21, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    Avoid doing physical activity in the outdoors. Exercise causes more of the smaller particles in smoke to be breathed deeply into the lungs.
    People with pre-existing heart or lung conditions in particular, should rest as much as possible and stay away from the smoke.
    Stay indoors
    It is important for all Tasmanians to minimise their exposure to smoke whenever possible.
    • Close windows and doors when indoors to slow the rate of penetration of smoke.
    • If you have an older air conditioner, switch it to ‘recycle’ or ‘recirculate’ to reduce smoke coming inside your home.
    • When indoors, minimise other sources of air pollution such as cigarette smoke, burning candles, using unflued gas appliances or woodstoves, and avoid stirring up fine dust from sweeping or vacuuming.
    • If your home gets too hot to be comfortable or is letting in smoky air from the outside, try to relieve your exposure by taking a break in a cleaner air environment, such as a friend’s place, the local library, shopping centre, or sports centre. Check the EPA’s real time air quality data.
    • If there is a break in smoky conditions, take the opportunity to open windows and air out your home to improve the indoor air quality.

    cont …

  22. Clive Stott

    February 21, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    Following is what our DHHS is telling people, and as I have said in my opinion it is a load of rubbish and absolutely wrongful advice; it can be found at http://www.dhhs.tas.gov.au/publichealth/alerts/air/precautions:

    What precautions can I take?

    You may choose to take precautions when it is smoky outside. This is especially important for:
    • people with a heart problem
    • people with a chronic lung condition, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema
    • infants
    • people aged over 65 years
    • other people with long-term medical conditions.
    The above groups are also advised to plan ahead before smoky seasons.

    cont …

  23. Clive Stott

    February 21, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    And as far as being directed by people, who should know better, to stay indoors to avoid the smoke I was subjected to air quality readings INSIDE my home of over SEVEN TIMES the 25ug/m3 standard that our Health Department classes as harmful and there was no escape.

    I agree, there must be an independent inquiry into what has happened (and is still happening) with these fires otherwise it is going to happen again and again.

    We were told to stop indoors but apart from this being impractical advice, it was harmful advice in my opinion.

    Further information about indoor air quality can be found here http://cleanairtas.com/departments/indoor-air-quality.htm and our authorities have done nothing to provide susceptible people with proper masks and how to wear them or set up local personal support people in the smoky communities.
    Relocation was not even offered and yet it was much needed.

    What has occurred in Tasmania is similar to what happened in Morwell in Victoria with the Hazelwood coal mine fire. Much worse in some respects.

    We must have a similar independent inquiry in Tasmania. Our Premier needs to act.

    cont …

  24. Clive Stott

    February 21, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    Thank you Dr Nicole Anderson

    I felt sorry for the people of Circular Head when I saw them being forced to breathe the smoke.
    You are right we also know particulate matter can harm animals in just the same way.
    (Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake.
    Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way. – Martin Luther King Jr., civil-rights leader, 1929-1968)

    Unfortunately, it was not just the people in the north/west that were subjected to this pernicious smoke; we were too in the north of Tasmania; see my article at:

    In fact this smoke fumigated most of Tasmania and even Victoria. http://cleanairtas.com/photos/Melbourne-air-quality-drops-after-smoke-spreads-across-city-from-Tasmania-bushfires.pdf
    This can all be verified with our EPA air quality readings and Bureau of Meteorology satellite images.

    cont …

  25. alan

    February 21, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    A fast and effective response to the outbreak of fires seems to be the key to stopping these fires before they can develop into such monstrous and damaging wild fires.
    Perhaps, the Tasmanian Fire Service need to review their expenditure and spend on acquiring a good mixture of fire fighting aircraft including some super tankers and not on those numerous dual cab utes that are seen in suburban streets and shopping centres.

  26. Claire Gilmour

    February 21, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    Re #2 – Graeme, Don’t let the truth get in the way of a greenie bash eh!? Should all doctors ignore the impacts of smoke from fires? Don’t doctors take an oath to help protect peoples health? To use peoples health and doctors advice to simply green bash is deplorable.

    For your information Graeme …


    I take my hat off to Dr Nicole Anderson for presenting such an article publicly on TT … knowing full well myself just how insular and environmental hating some can be in Circular Head.

    As a resident of Circular Head and close to the current Mawbana fire, I can testify to the debilitating smoke which lingers in my valley.

    The fire threat initially stopped me from starting my new job in the south of the state as it was too risky to leave.

    Then when the smoke become so unbearable and I risked losing my job, I installed remote controlled cameras so I could leave and still keep an eye on the place.

    Prior to leaving a friend and I also drove around and through the adjacent fire risk areas to assess the situation, as there was little info one could glean from the TFS website.

    Every day I was away was hugely stressful, even though I have a large fire fighting irrigation system installed, I have to be there to turn it on.

    When I came back home late last week, the smoke has made me terribly crook. Like an allergic reaction to a number of wasp stings over some years, seemingly the more smoke exposure has made me more susceptible to its ill effects.

    For years the area has been inundated with clearfelled forest smoke. Whilst initially the smoke never use to affect me, the government and their forestry GBE have ultimately, in my opinion, caused me an allergic health problem.

    I’m middle aged, the scary thing is … what have they done to many of the children forced to endure such smoke over many years???!

    In my opinion, just like the Montumana fire in 2013, not enough was done to extinguish the fires from the outset. As these (both the Mawbana 2016 and Montumana 2013) fires bunny hopped from euc plantation to plantation (in this case mostly e nitens) increasing the severity, it seems fairly apparent that FT’s management of the states forests have increased the fire risk, let alone impacted on peoples health – physical, emotional and indeed financially.

    The burnt plantations in the top photo in the following article still stand and look exactly like the photo – 3 years after the ‘Montumana’ fire went though in Jan 2013 … a dead ghostly testament to unstainable forest practices.

    Nothing has been done to remove this fire hazard which are dotted all through the area adjacent to the current Mawbana fire. No replanting back to anything, let alone native species. Nothing but a smattering of cutting grass grows in these dead plantations, because in FT terms poisoning the ground so nothing else will grow is apparently written as ‘sustainable’ in their handbook.


    Claire Gilmour

  27. Dr Helen Robertson

    February 21, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    Seeing that a large proportion of the burnt area from these fires has been in managed forestry coups, the spurious claim that the devastation has been the result of the area being “locked up” is patently rediculous.

    Even the large fuel reduction burn near the Tarkine Drive did not stop this fire.

    That’s the point of seeking a full review of the tactics used to prepare for and fight this fire…we clearly need some new approaches to deal with the changes to our climate which directly impact fire behaviour.

  28. Ted Mead

    February 21, 2016 at 11:15 am

    Graeme … It reads like it comes straight out of the Jackie Lambie handbook on how Greens undermine Tasmania’s economy.
    Tasmania wil never move forward whilst there is this shallow and divisive thinking!!!!!!!!

  29. Graeme

    February 21, 2016 at 10:20 am

    Vica Bailey & his followers are totally illogical people, I class them in same way as I class the radical Muslim bombers just destroyers of our society. By managing and & utilising our forests in a sustainable way we will be able to protect them & have them for ever. Our forest contractors was our fire fighters & fire preventers plus gave us access to be able to fight fires.

    Logging in proper way gave us fire breaks as well. By locking it up we loose access, we loose fire fighting ability, we loose communities, we loose a way of life, as you say we will have massive fires that will destroy what they try to protect plus we will have a degenerating forest. We will have no income to be able to employ people to look after our forests or our communities.

    The problem government & our communities face is all caused by the the likes of Vica Bailey and his followers who have planted them selves in government federal, state & local plus in our schools & universities we pay them while they cause hold ups in development, they tell lies & gradually destroy us all, the sooner the general public wake up to this speak up & help get rid of them the better off we all will be. Our industry & society needed some checking in our earlier days of our woodchip operations & this was good but unfortunately they have become an extremist group that need to be stopped before they ruin our country. We are allowing 15% of our population ruin future opportunities for our children & our grand children. These people would have us going back to the stone ages if we let them have there way, I am as strong a conservationist as any one we must not destroy our country our what’s on it we must manage & work with what we have utilise it & keep it sustainable. Some industries will need to change some as they will run out of commodities but forestry is renewable & sustainable & good for our future.


  30. phill Parsons

    February 21, 2016 at 9:02 am

    Recently a neighbor followed the ancient and outdated practice of burning the soils organic matter [stubble].

    Visitors [perhaps tourists, perhaps locals] complained.

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