Tasmanian Times

Adventure and Wilderness

Tasmania is burning

World Heritage Area devastation. Picture, Copyright Dan Broun, the Guardian

In contrast to Far North Queensland, where torrential rain has led to widespread flooding with over 400mms falling in 24hrs; here in drought-stricken Tasmania, the southern half of this island is, to put it bluntly, ablaze.

Three huge out-of-control bushfires have consumed almost 200,000 hectares of the island’s wilderness areas. Natural Parks and precious World Heritage Sites are been razed. Towns and hamlets are at risk of incineration. So far, only a handful of houses are confirmed lost but this number is likely to rise sharply in coming days with high temperatures and gusty winds forecast.

There are dire predictions that the fires are set to worsen. The beleaguered 500 or so firefighters are exhausted, and authorities are considering calling in expert help from as far away as the United States and Europe.

Smoke from the bushfires has already reached New Zealand 2,000 kilometres away. The aforementioned firefighters and the water bombing aircraft, including a Boeing 747, can do little more than back burn and put in fire breaks to defend the rural towns and hamlets from the infernos. Poor visibility due to the heavy smoke has meant that the aircraft are often unable to operate.

Our closest fire, just across the Huon River, is less than 10 kms away. We’ve been warned to watch out for spot fires and live airborne embers. These destructive embers travel kilometres ahead of the actual fire and they will destroy property.

Ominous-looking burnt black eucalyptus leaves and ash are already carpeting our bush property. The smell of the smoke fills every nook and cranny inside. There is no escaping its acrid smell. Of course, I could choose to leave our bush block like many of our neighbours. But the fire hasn’t gotten any closer to us, yet. It’s just that heavy wall of smoke with a more than a hint of what menace may follow.

Surprisingly, this bushfire Watch and Act status is mostly a mundane waiting game. If the fire “makes a run” to use the firefighters’ vocabulary and if the wind changes, we will be in trouble. Today, like yesterday and the day before, we may well get the word that we should evacuate.

Hundreds of locals have already decamped to a nominated centre in the nearby town of Huonville. Livestock have been moved to safer paddocks. A tent city has sprung up on the town’s footy oval. And a man has been charged with looting several abandoned homesteads.

We can draw some small comfort from the fire trucks that occasionally rumble slowly by our front gate, night and day with their flashing blue and red lights as they too watch out for any spot fires. The crew look almost bored, but perhaps they are simply fatigued from their constant state of vigilance.

Our predominantly timber home is not regarded as being defendable. Built well over a decade ago, it predates the strict fireproof regulations of modern dwellings. We have no fireproof bunker. And so, our ash-coated cars remain jam-packed with our stuff and they are parked facing our exit. Even our dogs, normally playful and curious, are subdued; as if they know something’s astir and our sudden exit is imminent.

I like to think I will be able to put up a partial fight of sorts before I abandon ship. A mate is on standby to come over and help, and we have two fire-fighting pumps at the ready, at either ends of the house. If we lose power, which is likely, at least these petrol driven pumps will remain functional. I’ve blocked the downpipes and filled the gutters with water. My wife and I have raked up wheelbarrow loads of gum leaves from around the house in a forlorn attempt to minimise fuel for a fire in our immediate vicinity. No doubt, the next wind gust will casually undo all our hard work. But if there are any indications that the fire is likely to consume everything it its way, I won’t be sticking around.

And so, surrounded by stringybark gums trees that we’ve come to treasure, but which could now well be our nemesis, and with fraying nerves, we wait and listen to the news bulletins.

But mostly we are desperately hoping we will avoid the catastrophe of losing our home.

We’ll see.

Philip Lynch more or less grew up in rural Ireland. And. after too many years in Melbourne, I finally finally made it to Tasmania five years ago’. Philip works as a nurse. The Irish Times has published some of his emigration pieces. The Age has also …

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


  1. MjF

    February 6, 2019 at 2:52 pm

    A number of Aircranes and Skycranes have been brought to Australia from the USA for each bushfire season and based in Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, but not Tasmania, yet.

    Surely the government and the TFS brains trust have to get serious about this, and come up with some evaluations and costings to charter and provision this level of kit. It would seem a good fit coming from the northern hemisphere winter.

  2. Luigi

    February 4, 2019 at 7:32 pm

    ScoMo visited today. We have the Townsville floods and Queensland’s crucial part in the next election to thank for that.

    He wasn’t motivated by two weeks of fires to come here, but it would have been unseemly to go to Townsville but continue to deliberately ignore Tasmania.

  3. Keith roberts

    February 4, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    I can’t wait for the pollies to pontificate on the extreme weather each end of the continent, then finish up doing nothing.

    Queensland floods have been referred to as unprecedented, and certainly Tassie’s fires are a sign of things to come. Will we cope with year-on-year fires?

    I have maintained weather records at home (South Hobart) for just over 50 years, and even as an amateur I have noted increasing temperatures and less snow on the mountain.

    Fires threaten any community and they will destroy our iconic alpine world. No one wants to see a burnt landscape. It’s time our Premier told his Federal counterparts to move on climate change.

    It will not help me, but otherwise my grandchildren will have to endure a different world by the end of this century.

  4. Mike Seabrook

    February 4, 2019 at 12:55 am

    A few more dams would have helped, so how about hydro dams on the Gordon-below-Franklin and the lower Huon?

    • Russell

      February 4, 2019 at 8:39 am

      Dams don’t put out fires. Water bombers, and responsible Governments to enable them, do.

  5. max

    February 3, 2019 at 12:48 pm

    Tasmania is burning, in fact all of the world is burning.

    How long can we have forests in the new world of climate change?
    By causing the release of greenhouse gases (GHG), forest fires contribute significantly to climate change. Warmer climate leads to forests becoming dryer and degraded, which increases their vulnerability to fire. The number and scale of fires increase, thereby creating a positive feedback loop.

    Different studies assume that climate change will increase the number of hot and dry days with high fire risk, and will extend the fire season and increase the frequency of electrical storms. This will increase the frequency of forest fires as well as the affected forest area.

    Most of Australia’s forests are fire prone, and climate change can only exacerbate the problem. Eucalyptus plantation are an example of what not to do in this new world that we have created.

    Even wheat or grass, the staples of civilisation, are under this threat. By now even the most hardened climate change deniers should be realising that we can no longer continue down this path.

    How can we protect ourselves against fire? It is impossible to protect our way of life with fuel reduction burns when all plants are inflammable.

    Australia and the rest of the world must prepare for uncontrollable fire storms by an instant response arrangement.

    • Rob Halton

      February 4, 2019 at 8:17 am

      Rob, your incessant and repetitious pontifications on off-topic subjects will likely be heavily edited or deleted – just like this one has been.

      — Moderator

      • Rob Halton

        February 4, 2019 at 12:18 pm

        Max, it’s a waste of my time entering into any further discussions of any kind with you as you offer no solutions .. just all gloom and doom!

        I have more confidence than you that we will survive as a nation, given our people’s power telling government how we all should unite and conduct our daily lives.

        • max

          February 4, 2019 at 4:26 pm

          Rob Halton … On the contrary, I do try to offer solutions, solutions that you do not comprehend, or refuse to try.

          We go way back. You believe in clear felling followed by an intense regeneration burn and aerial sowing. I believe in selective logging and a future for long term logging. You believe in burn, burn, burn for fuel reduction. I cannot see how we can burn our way out of runaway bush fires. Your way has been proven to be a dismal failure. It is impossible to burn out every farm or every bit of grass .. it is simply impossible. My suggestion is to spend the money needed for fuel reduction burns on instant response. We need a stand-by water bomber.

          The research by the University of Tasmania found 17 per cent of Australians thought climate change was not real. Both you and Morrison are in that 17 per cent.

          You have more confidence than I that we will survive as a nation, given our people’s power in telling government how we all should unite and conduct our daily lives. Why would anyone vote for Morrison and his climate change sceptic-riddled government .. a government that cannot even look at what’s going on in our country and comprehend the problem of climate change. It leaves me with little hope of our survival if people will vote for a failed Liberal Party.

          Morrison is a buffoon of a man who wants to build coal-fired power stations in a country suffering from climate change.

          Why would a leader of our country antagonise our main trading partner and side with America to overthrow the elected leader of another country, namely Venezuela, over oil?

  6. Ivo Edwards

    February 3, 2019 at 9:47 am

    Don’t panic Russell! – the water bombers are flying over our property all day. Nearly all of them are small helicopters dangling a bucket holding a thimble full of water!

    There are supposed to be a couple of air tractors holding 4,000 litres of water each, but I haven’t spotted them recently so perhaps their budget is exhausted. There is also the Boeing 737 thingy, holding, I believe, in the order of 40,000 litres of special fire retardant gel. It’s a pity though that it has to return to its Avalon base in Victoria after each trip!

    There’s been no mention of the amazing Sky Train ‘Elvis” type helicopter this year with 10,000 water capacity, plus the ability to lift heavy tracked firefighting bulldozers to fire zones. I guess it was too expensive compared with manual remote area fire fighting people beating out the flames.

    Don’t just trust me though, as I am only an ignorant armchair critic. The reason I am ignorant on this matter, like most others, is because no one in the know in authority has bothered to explain just what the hell is going on!

    • Clive Stott

      February 3, 2019 at 7:17 pm

      ‘Elvis’ has left the building!

      I went looking for those thimble of water things, Ivo.
      I found two meanings:

      Bambi : Born Again Middle Age Biker.
      Bambi: Someone who is terrible at everything and just there to make up the numbers.

  7. Russell

    February 3, 2019 at 7:47 am


  8. Pete Godfrey

    February 3, 2019 at 7:35 am

    Good luck, Phillip. I hope that if the fire comes your way it is small enough to stay and defend your place. Otherwise just get out, maybe borrow a boat and sit out on the water so you can go back as soon as the danger is over.

    I feel for anyone who is in front of a fire in these conditions. If you have any sprinklers then set them up and start your pump before you leave. Embers are the most likely source of danger for a long time before the fire gets to you.

    If you stay, fill as many buckets and containers with water as you can. Throwing a bucket of water over an ember fire is much faster than using a hose.

To Top