THE green movement was yesterday blamed for the severity of the Victorian fires that cost so many lives and ruined so much property.
David Packham, a former supervising meteorologist for fire weather nationwide at the Bureau of Meteorology, said environmentalists’ politically successful campaign to stop controlled vegetation burning off allowed the Black Saturday fires to rage uncontrollably. “The green movement is directly responsible for the severity of these fires through their opposition to prescribed burning,” Mr Packham said.
“Elements of the movement are behaving like eco-terrorists waging jihad against prescribed burning and fuel management. They believe fundamentally that if we keep all fire out of Australia’s forests, the trees will grow, the canopies will close up, the ground will become moist and there will be no fires. This is absolute and total nonsense.”
The ending of the practice of controlled burning left vegetation at unprecedented levels, he said.
“The fuel levels were the highest in Victoria for 30,000 years. This led to the intensity of the fire that led to the deaths of these people and destroyed their homes,” Mr Packham said.
Greens senator Bob Brown said his party was not opposed to prescribed burning. “Everyone in Australia has been deeply affected by Victoria’s devastating bushfires and it reminds us again of the danger inherent in Australia’s beautiful bush,” he said. “Greens’ policy supports the ecologically appropriate use of fire. Scientifically based controlled and careful burning is an important tool in protecting lives and property, as well as being a natural part of the bush life cycle.”
The Wilderness Society’s Victorian campaign manager, Gavan McFadzean, said his organisation was preparing a report on the bushfires. He would not comment on Mr Packham’s allegation.
“Frankly, it is inappropriate, opportunistic and grossly insensitive to bushfire victims for Mr Packham or anyone else from the anti-parks, pro-logging lobby to push their agenda while the deceased are being found and the CFA are still risking their lives trying to put out these bushfires,” Mr McFadzean said.
In its winter 2008 newsletter, the Wilderness Society mapped out its response to bushfire management, noting “a massive increase in hazard reduction burning and firebreaks is destroying nature, pushing wildlife closer to extinction and in many cases increasing the risk to people and properties by making areas more fire-prone”. But its response accepts the need for fuel reduction burning.
Mr Packham said he wrote an email early last Thursday expressing concerns about the looming weather conditions, encouraging it to be widely circulated. “I doubt if the state has ever before faced such extreme conditions with fuel levels higher than ever, the prospects for Saturday are horrible,” he wrote. That afternoon CFA chief Russell Rees issued his grim warning about the weekend’s fire danger, saying the “forecast is worse than in 1983 for Ash Wednesday”.
Mr Packham said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the CFA was spurred into action after the concerns raised by his email.
CFA spokeswoman Adele Buhagiar said it had received the grim predictions from the Bureau of Meteorology on Wednesday and acted quickly to disseminate the advice to the public.