Fire threatens Tarkine wilderness in north-west Tasmania

Fire threatens Tarkine wilderness in north-west Tasmania

18 March 2008

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Tasmania, Australia — A large bushfire is burning out of control in Tasmania’s north-west. The fire is burning in the are known as the Tarkine, an area of wilderness that was protected in a conservation reserve by the federal and Tasmanian governments in 2005, because of its outstanding value as Australia’s largest temperature rainforest.

“For people that have got a rough idea, the fire is now not very far Corinna,” says John Gledhill from the Tasmanian Fire Service.

“In fact the last report I had, it was probably only four kilometres, as the crow flies, from Corinna.

“It’s burning in a range of vegetation from rainforests to button grass, it threatens good timber reserves to the north and certainly a lot of wilderness value in the area,” says Gledhill.

The Savage River iron ore mine, just north-east of Corinna, has been evacuated because of the dense smoke. Gledhill says there are few properties in the area affected by the fire, and so far no properties have been threatened or lost.

“We are sending additional fire trucks into the Corinna area to provide assistance if required,” says Gledhill.

“It’s so exceptionally dry, unusually dry in that area, for it to be burning rainforest, the fire in going to continue to burn almost regardless of weather until such time as we do get rain.”

Chris Arthur, Parks and Reserve Manager of the West Coast, says the area currently burning has significant natural value.

“The fire is actually burning in the Arthur Pieman Conservation area, it’s also burning in the Mount Donaldson Nature Recreation area and burning in state forest,” says Arthur.

“Some of these areas have got major significant value in that they’ve got myrtle dominated temperate rainforest, which could be up to 800 thousand years old.”

Arthur says although it is unusual for rainforests to be so dry and to burn this badly, it is not completely out of character.

“There have been major fires. The Arthur Pieman Conservation area had a 70 to 80 thousand hectare fire in 2003, which burnt through the coastal heather lands and the button grass moorlands, and in 1982 there was a significant rainforest fire of this magnitude in the same sort of geographical area.

“[Rainforests are] usually quite dense and wet, but in the extreme weather conditions we’ve got at the moment, the rainforest is quite dry. And so basically what happens is the fire goes through the forest and the under storey with the fine growth underneath and then goes up into the big trees, we’re talking about trees that are between 20 to 30 metres, maybe 40 metres tall… and once it gets into the upper crowns of those trees, it just pushes through.”

Although many people will be sadden to see the ancient forest burned, Chris Arthur says it is not as devastating as it first appears.

“One of the things that people need to realise is that these rainforests are precious, but fire is very much part of the ecology of these forests and it’s a basic form of accession.

“We’ll lose a significant amount of forest probably, but the process of replacement of that forest will start, and within 100 years, without a certain amount of fire, you’ll start off with your eucalypt forest and then your eucalypt forest will gradually be replaced by rainforest.

“These events at the time seem catastrophic, but they are part of the cycle of life and you do get your regeneration.”

The process of regeneration is a fair way off, however, as the fire continues to burn out of control. Due to the rough terrain of the area, fire crews have not been able to get to the fire front and fight it directly.

“It’s a large fire and it’s going to be a lot larger before it’s finished,” said Gledhill.

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