Researchers study fire history in New Zealand and Tasmania

David Bowman

A new series of four short films helps citizens of the Rocky Mountain West understand how scientists study the impact of fire on ecosystems.

The films document a National Science Foundation-funded project called Wildfire PIRE – – an international partnership among Montana State University, the University of Colorado, the University of Idaho, the University of Tasmania (Australia) and the University of Auckland (New Zealand) along with other universities and agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

In 2010, researchers from the U.S. first traveled to Tasmania and New Zealand to collect data on the impacts of wildfire. Using tree ring cores and columns of mud drawn from lakes, the researchers can piece together the history of fire in different landscapes.

The data from the Southern Hemisphere will also help researchers make predictions about the impacts of fire in the Northern Rocky Mountains.

David Bowman
David Bowman, PhD

One of the four films is titled The (un)Luck of the Draw: Understanding Bushfire in Tasmania, and discusses how the disastrous fires of 1967, referred to as the Black Tuesday Bushfires, affected this island south of the Australian mainland (map). They were the most deadly fires that Tasmania has ever experienced, leaving 62 people dead, 900 injured and over seven thousand homeless within the space of five hours. They followed a very wet spring which produced a great deal of new vegetation growth. Then on a dry, windy February day, dozens of controlled burns, or “burn offs” were fanned into life, along with some other accidental ignitions, burning 2,640 square kilometers (652,360 acres).

In the video, David Bosman, PhD, from the University of Tasmania talks about the 1967 Black Tuesday Bushfires and the fact that it could happen again. Here is a portion of what he says in the film.

…When you know that 1967 happened, and you can see the legacy of it, and you know the terror and the shock it did to this community, and then you know a lot about fire as I do, and you see it’s very, very vulnerable, it’s basically surrounded by flammable bushland.

I’m afraid, and I’m surprised at how afraid I am.

In the deck there’s a card called 1967 Or Worse, and one day the card’s going to be dealt.

The scary thing is we don’t know how often these cards are in the deck. If we get something ’67 or worse, we could burn a quarter of the island down in three hours, and that means thousands of people will die. And I’m afraid of that.

You have to wonder… is there a deck of cards for the northwest United States with one of the cards called “1910 Or Worse”?

The other three films in the series can be found HERE.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.