What is a bushfire and how do you name it?
With cyclones, we give the storm a name and then we track where it goes. We say where it is moving and where it is likely to impact of people. We give alerts by saying what towns or areas are likely to be affected, but with fires it seems we take a different approach and it is potentially deadly.
Bushfires are named by their place of origin. But as we know, (like cyclones) bushfires move.
A huge bushfire which started near Lithgow was originally the “Track….something” fire (not sure of the name) then the Marrangaroo Army Base fire” (named after a former chemical weapons storage area still owned by the army and used for explosives training) before becoming the “State Mine Fire”. Notwithstanding that the ‘State Mine’ closed in the 1960s and is now only a (well worth visiting) mining museum.
The “State Mine” is on State Mine Gully Road (oddly enough) which leads of to the delights of the Newnes Plateau, the not yet officially named Lurline Jack Lookout, and the Glow Worm Tunnel.
The fire passed here on Wednesday and continued east (under the power of a 70kmh westerly wind) to take out over 20,000 ha of bushland. The fire front is now near Bilpin, about 50 km (by road) from the origin of the fire and at least 30km as the slightly singed crow flies.
But the new bulletins still refer to it as the ‘State Mine’ fire and say there is a ‘Watch and Act’ alert (the second highest alert) on the ‘State Mine’ fire. To put this in perspective, it is like referring to the “Sydney CBD fire” when it is threatening homes in Blacktown.
If I was living along Bell’s Line of Road and hadn’t seen the news for a few days, I wouldn’t be alarmed by an alert for the ‘State Mine’ fire because I know the State Mine is 30-50km away. When in fact the fire is only a few kilometres from my house.
The same applies to the devastating fire called the Linksview Road fire that stretched all the way from Springwood to the other side of the Hawkesbury river. Anything that is going to burn in Linksview Road has already burnt and to continue to call the fire by the name of its origin might be convenient in labelling terms for the RFS (disclosure, I am in the RFS), it is not helpful in delivering information to people whose properties might be in danger.
Do I have an answer? No. But I do know that the current system of naming fires is misleading and potentially deadly and once this immediate crisis has passed, serious thought needs to be put into the way we name fires and communicate the danger to residents.