Australia More than 100,000 households in Sydney and surrounds are exposed to high bushfire risks this summer, the latest analysis of addresses and satellite imagery shows.
The analysis by Macquarie University-affiliated Risk Frontiers group reveals Hornsby residents top the list of exposed homes in the greater Sydney area with 19,983 addresses identified as lying within 100 metres of bushland.
That’s the distance the Rural Fire Service uses as its “vegetation buffer”.
The tally, which uses Local Government Area addresses from March 2016 prior to the amalgamation of some councils, identifies Ku-ring-gai council area as the next most at-risk locations in the Sydney region with 15,719 addresses within the 100m range.
‘Fingers of forests’
James O’Brien, chief geospatial scientist with Risk Frontiers, said many suburbs were akin to a “Norwegian coast of bushland”, with fingers of forest pushing into residential areas like fjords.
“If you are close to the bushland, the risk increases,” Dr O’Brien said.
The survey identified Gosford and the Blue Mountains regions as the home to the most at-risk homes near Sydney, with 26,595 and 23,068 addresses within 100m of bush.
Research by colleagues including John McAneney, the managing director of Risk Frontiers, has found that the distance to the nearest bushland boundary “has been the overriding discriminating factor” in determining whether a building will be lost in a significant fire in Australia.
The chances of the loss of a house located within 50 metres of a major blaze is around 60 per cent, while the maximum distance homes are destroyed is less than 700 metres, Dr McAneney said in a research paper.
“It doesn’t mean that every home close to bush will be lost [in a fire] but it shows there’s a relationship to distance,” Dr O’Brien said.
Hazard reduction hindered
Families are likely to be reviewing their fire plans now that the bushfire season has clearly arrived, with dozens of fires burning across NSW since the mercury soared late last week. Authorities had been hindered in their spring hazard reduction burning program after an unusually wet spring for much of the state.
A drier October has extended into November, demonstrating how quickly fuel – including grasslands – can cure and become hazardous when temperatures rise and humidity levels drop.
The Risk Frontiers analysis focuses only on bushland. The Rural Fire Service also includes grassland risks when setting building regulations for those living in bushfire prone zones.
Across Sydney, both Sutherland and the Hills Shire boast more than 12,000 homes within 100m of the bush, ranking them third and fourth most in the city. (See chart below.)
Hawkesbury, Warringah, Pittwater and Penrith each have more than 5000 addresses within 100m of bushland.
Rounding out the top 10 are Ryde, with 4061, and Campbelltown with 3568 addresses inside that range, Risk Frontiers said.
Government has urged Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers who are deployed to guard Viphya Plantation against destruction to be vigilant by dealing with the perpetrators accordingly.
Msaka (left) walking in the plantantion
Minister of Mines, Energy and Natural Resources, Bright Msaka, made the statement Tuesday after touring the plantation, especially areas under the jurisdiction of Total Land Care and Raiply Malawi Limited.
Incidences of fire destroying numerous hectares of trees every year have been a never-ending song for the Viphya Plantation for over a decade now. The plantation is shared by two districts of Mzimba andNkhata Bay.
However, the issue has raged on in spite of efforts by government and its stakeholders to plant trees and guard them against destruction. Reports have indicated that more often, the fires that destroy the plantation are deliberately set rather than accidental.
The minister said government is aware that some disgruntled workers and individuals whose licences were cancelled are the ones setting fires in the plantation.
People need to know that this is a national asset, so if the department of forestry has denied somebody a licence for the reasons best known by the department, they are supposed to understand instead of setting fires, he said.
To mitigate the challenge, Msaka said government deployed MDF soldiers in protected forests across the country as a way of scaring people from destroying the plantations.
In spite of the effort, some people are still setting parts of the Viphya Forest on fire, regardless of the size of trees.
We have directed the Malawi Defence Force solders to deal with anyone setting bush fires and operating in the forest without licences and that the law will take its course [against them], he warned.
However, Msaka commended Raiply Malawi Limited and Total Land Care for utilizing the forest sustainably and adding value to the trees from the forest.
In the past, we have been cutting trees or sawing and selling them abroad at a very cheap price. We behaved like a prodigal son who squandered all what his father gave him.
We need to be very careful and be proud of what we inherited so that we can benefit from it and pass on those benefits to the next generation, advised the minister.
Earlier, Chief Executive Officer of Raiply Malawi Limited, Thomas Oomen, cited bush fires and encroachment as major challenges facing his company.
This year alone, we have lost about 526 hectares [of trees] to bush fires, unfortunately, most of these trees are below 15 years old but they are supposed to be harvested at the age of 25. This is dooming our future, said Oomen.
Chikangawa Forest consists of seven plantations comprising 53,000 hectares.
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