Reduce fuel load or perish

Call for green light on fire management

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Manager of Marengo Station, Mick Kelsall, says it's time to re-think the great experiment surrounding fuel load and fire management and let skilled landholders carry out hazard reduction in national parks. This hot part of the Bees Nest fire has set the forest back big time.

Manager of Marengo Station, Mick Kelsall, says it's time to re-think the great experiment surrounding fuel load and fire management and let skilled landholders carry out hazard reduction in national parks. This hot part of the Bees Nest fire has set the forest back big time.

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Graziers affected by fire are calling on government to allow them to help themselves by managing for the future.

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Marengo Station on the Upper Nymbida near Ebor is surrounded by natural wonder, with world heritage forest and spectacular gorge country.

That beauty lies desolate after a fire of epic proportions in early September, which helped trigger what has now become an all encompassing Eastern Fall disaster.

Marengo manager Mick Kelsall blames fuel loads, fire management, unbending bureaucracy and politics for the outcome.

"Locking up country for a vote is the worst thing you can do for fire management," he says.

Burned areas of the state as of November 20. The full extent of livestock and infrastures losses are not yet known. Graphic: Josh Hall.

Burned areas of the state as of November 20. The full extent of livestock and infrastures losses are not yet known. Graphic: Josh Hall.

"With parks and forestry understaffed and under funded, the ratio of men to acres is way out but pointing the finger at each other is no solution. The issue is fire management."

Mr Kelsall is not a lone voice in this debate, with the Shooters and Fishers planning to introduce legislation allowing landholders bordering wilderness parks to reduce fuel loads 250 meters beyond their boundary. Agricultural minister Adam Marshall is calling for grazing to be allowed back into parks and reserves.

As of this week six lives have been lost in the infernos, 592 homes destroyed and more than 1.6 million hectares have succumbed.

Mr Kelsall says the destruction didn't have to happen and had local landholders been allowed to carry out critical backburns ahead of events like the Bees Nest fire in early September, the damage might have been mitigated.

The crew at Marengo follow the rules when it comes to hazard reduction, conducting low intensity burns in winter on nights when frost is predicted, lighting up blocks of their forestry lease so the whole area can be managed by a small team, a bit at a time.

An area subjected to a cool burn last July survived the Bees Nest blaze while adjacent land with fuel has now been razed.

An area subjected to a cool burn last July survived the Bees Nest blaze while adjacent land with fuel has now been razed.

"There are not enough days to do this but there are still days you can backburn," he says

A former parks employee Mr Kelsall says the skill and work ethic of rangers on the ground is unsurpassed.

"I can't speak highly enough of them," he says. "They are experienced and it shows."

But their ranks have been thinned and he now blames National Parks and Wildlife Service for not looking after their side of the fence, and when fires threatened Marengo he had to rely on his own resources to save country.

When smoke appeared on the western side of the Guy Fawkes gorge four days before it erupted as a community concern, Mr Kelsall enacted his fire plan - calling in a bulldozer and brushing up fire trails, setting up watering points with pumps and hoses. When the blaze roared out of the gorge and across the plateau his team were ready to fight.

"There is nothing anyone can do to stop a bad fire but where it came out of the gorge and into country we control-burned in July, the blaze visibly cooled and slowed.

"That bought us time to regroup and move the 'dozers to a safer place. Our focus should not be about climate change. What we need is on the ground management. We have got to get rid of the fuel."

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