Kimberley bushfires take toll on environment, volunteer firefighters

02 October 2021

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USA – Firefighters in northern Western Australia have described a “rough start” to the bushfire season in the Kimberley.

More than 300 bushfires have occurred across the region since mid-July with 100 fires were in the Shire of Broome alone.

The majority have been deliberately lit.

There are fears this year will be worse than a record-setting one in 2017 because the bushfire season has another two or three months to go before wet season rains begin.

Ben Muller from Fire and Emergency Services said volunteers were stretched.

“That’s 300 occasions where volunteers have had to leave their families or leave their work, in the middle of the day or the middle of the night, to go and put out something that could have been avoided,” he said.

Mr Muller said it had been a “rough start” to the season and busier than what firefighters would usually deal with.

The National Council for Fire and Emergency Services predicted an above-average bushfire season for some parts of the Kimberley.

The outlook for September to November was for below-average rainfall and warmer-than-average temperatures.

Fuel loads were also higher.

Pastoralists, Aboriginal groups and conservationists have previously expressed concern about large swathes of bush being burnt, damaging grazing land, heritage sites, and habitat.

Mr Muller said prescribed burns earlier in the year in a mosaic pattern helped reduce hot, uncontrollable fires.

But he said arsonists were exacerbating the situation.

“Catching those who light them is a totally different matter. It’s incredibly difficult.”

He urged anyone with information about deliberately lit fires to contact police or Crime Stoppers WA on 1800 333 00.

The warning comes on the third anniversary of an emergency level fire that threatened homes in Kununurra and forced the evacuation of dozens of residents.

Three homes were damaged in the suspicious fire in 2018 during hot gusty winds when embers ignited trees, fences, and even washing hanging on the line.

Key points:

  • There have been 300 bushfires in less than three months in the Kimberley
  • Authorities say the majority have been deliberately lit or are suspicious
  • There are concerns about the growing toll on the environment and on volunteers called out to fight them
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