Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, distributed these photos of firefighters working to save a very large tree in Australia. Here is what he wrote:
FFMVic Firefighters Henry Lohr and his team mates protected this really important community asset, an ancient Messmate near Bendoc. I hope the work they have done clearing around the base and pumping 600ltrs of foam into the root area saves this tree.
Messmate is a common name for a group of species of tree in the plant genus Eucalyptus.
Many areas around the world have imported eucalyptus trees in order to harvest the wood, leaves, and oil in order to make paper and medicine. But wildfires burn rapidly under the trees and through the crowns, fed by the stringy bark, oil, and the leaves and forest litter on the ground that do not decompose.
In California they have also been imported and planted for esthetic purposes. But this invasive species brought many problems with it.
The Guardian has a unique illustrated story about this controversial plant. Check it out here.
Euronews produced this 10-minute documentary about the deadly wildfires that occurred this year in Portugal. The 360 video is very interesting and worth seeing but I could not get it to work properly using the Chrome web browser, however it displayed fine in Firefox.
In 2017, wildfires in Portugal burned about 560,000 hectares (1.3 million acres) of forest, representing 60 percent of Europe’s wildfire total, for a country that makes up just 2 percent of the continent’s landmass.
The fires were the deadliest in the country’s history, claiming more than 100 lives.
When numerous fires burned through large expanses of Portugal in June killing more than 60 people, they were fueled in some areas by monocultures of eucalyptus trees. Many areas around the world grow them in order to harvest the wood, leaves, and oil to make paper and medicine. But wildfires burn rapidly under the trees and through the crowns, fed by the stringy bark, oil, and the leaves and forest litter on the ground that do not decompose. Earlier this year we took this photo after a fire in Chile spread through a plantation.
…Even so, Portugal’s wood industry no longer relies on native species like oak and pine. Instead, it is increasingly built on eucalyptus, which feeds a pulp and paper sector that makes up 10 percent of Portuguese exports. The area of eucalyptus planting has more than doubled since the 1980s.
Eucalyptus can be harvested in half the time needed for pine. And unlike other species, “you have absolutely no need for people on the ground” to supervise its growth, said João Camargo, an environmental engineer.
The tree, however, contains a highly flammable oil that helps fires erupt more easily, spread and intensify.
Yet after every fire, more landowners switch to eucalyptus, hoping that a shorter production cycle can allow them to recoup their losses faster and to harvest their trees before the next fire erupts.
It is an accelerating sequence that has turned Portugal “from a pretty diverse forest into a big eucalyptus monoculture,” Mr. Camargo said.
Above: Satellite photo showing smoke created by a fire in France, July 26, 2017. The red dots represent heat.
(Originally published at 8 p.m. MDT [UTC -6] July 26, 2017) (Revised at 9:36 a.m. MDT July 27, 2017)
Wildfires in France and Portugal are disrupting the lives of thousands of residents and tourists. Each country has multiple large fires, but one of the largest in France is near the Mediterranean coast 77 km (48 miles) east of Marseille between La Londe-les-Maures and Le Lavandou and has forced the evacuation of about 12,000 people.
Mistral winds spread the fires quickly causing 60 people to be evacuated by boat while others spent the night in gyms, public places, or on the beach.
There was also a 2,000-hectare (4,950-acre) fire on the French island of Corsica.
More than 1,000 firefighters are working on wildfires throughout the country.
Portugal is also struggling to contain a group of fires about 152 km (94 miles) northeast of Lisbon. It was just five weeks ago that a wildfire southeast of Coimbra, Portugal killed at least 62 people, most of whom were attempting to escape in their vehicles. Those fires were about 63 km northwest of the current blazes that are south of Perdigao burning in dense pine and in some cases non-native eucalyptus plantations. Many areas around the world grow eucalyptus in order to harvest the wood, leaves, and oil to make paper and medicine. But wildfires burn rapidly under them and through the tree crowns. Earlier this year we took this photo after a fire in Chile spread through a plantation.
About 2,000 firefighters with 700 vehicles are battling wildfires around Portugal. As in France, the fires are being pushed by strong winds.
Portugal’s fire season usually begins after July 1 but it got an early start this year.
The Sierra Club and the Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund (SPRAWLDEF) filed suit on May 26 over plans by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fund a vegetation-management program in the East Bay hills that would increase fire hazards, threaten endangered species and native wildlife, and increase the financial burden on taxpayers.
“The best way forward is to promote native vegetation that is less flammable and encourages healthy ecosystems and greater biodiversity,” said Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter director Michelle Myers. “That’s a win-win for the environment and for homeowners who want to feel secure that they won’t lose their homes in another Great Fire like the one we lived through in 1991. Unfortunately, FEMA’s approach isn’t in line with the priorities of fire safety and habitat restoration.”
FEMA has over $5.5 million in grant money to disburse for vegetation management in the East Bay Hills from Richmond to San Leandro. These areas contain thousands of acres of highly flammable eucalyptus and non-native pines, which choke out more fire-resistant natives like oaks, bays, and laurel. Flying in the face of the best science and land-management practice, the Sierra Club said, FEMA has signaled its intention to fund a plan to thin flammable non-natives, rather than remove them entirely. The Sierra Club / SPRAWLDEF suit contents that this is the wrong approach.
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups including the Claremont Conservancy, the Golden Gate Audubon Society, and the California Native Plant Society have all advocated for removing all of the flammable eucalyptus and pine trees over time so that less-flammable native habitat can reclaim those areas. In contrast to clearcutting, this approach calls for removing eucalyptus in phases, so that native trees — which cannot grow to full size underneath the eucalyptus canopy — are able to thrive. Mere thinning of eucalyptus and pine plantations in fact denudes hillsides to an even greater extent, as it requires the clearing of native plants in the understory.