Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fire Damage in Australia Leaves Questions Behind

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fire Damage in Australia Leaves Questions Behind

Article excerpt

IN a quiet, leafy cul-du-sac just north of Sydney that was caught in bush fires over the weekend, piles of burned furniture line the curbside. Utility trucks, working to restore power, roar past the crumpled silver-and-black remains of a boat. A line of orange plastic cones, guarded by a group of neighborhood children, keep "stickybeaks" (nosy onlookers) out of the street.

Of the 187 houses destroyed in the tumultuous blazes that swept through parts of New South Wales over the last week, four were destroyed on this street; several others sustained damage. Peter Cheeseman's garage is now a pile of burned bricks and twisted metal, but the house was saved because "we're used to dealing with fire on this street," he says. "My son and I stayed with the house and used pumps to draw water from the pool."

The blackened ravine that the fire roared up is behind his house. This junction of urban dwellings and bushland is fueling a major public debate over how best to manage Australia's land so as to limit fire damage. Some people in support of hazard-reduction burning say the practice means less fuel for the fire.

"The authorities will have to become more responsible," Mr. Cheeseman says. "We've urged the authorities to do more burning off. They promised to do some last spring, but that day it rained. They never did it."

Bob Laurence, president of the Chatswood West Ward Progress Association of Willoughby Council, says, "A lot of people want to talk to the Willoughby Council about why they've succumbed to `Greenie' pressure.... I've been talking to people with a couple of decades experience who say that there's a lot less hazard reduction being done."

Local councils are taking the heat for "tree protection orders" that don't allow residents to cut trees without permission and for cutting previous levels of hazard reduction. Councils say they are caught between the conflicting needs of their residents: When they do controlled burns, residents complain of respiratory problems and air pollution. And in the winter months, when it makes sense to burn, they are forbidden to burn because of Sydney's inversion layer that traps the smoke. …

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