The biggest civil emergency in Cockburn in many years was a fire started by an arsonist at midnight in bushland between Nicholson Road and Taylor Road, Forrestdale. Fire fighters thought they had it under control but the morning's strong easterly winds reignited it and by 10:30 black smoke was pluming 100 metres high. At mid-day, the emergency services sent text messages to all mobile phones in the cell area advising everyone to evacuate now or die (our paraphrasing).
Fanned by 40 kph winds, flames travelling at 1,000 metres an hour reached Boronia Road by 3:00 pm and Liddelow Road around 3:15 pm burning hot and devastating everything in its path. 200 fire fighters battled against the flames and a dozen helicopters and fixed wing aircraft buzzed incessantly over the fire dropping water onto the fire front. Houses were so shrouded in smoke that pilots could not see them from above. Consequently, fire fighters on the ground with hoses had to work hard to save every house. Amazingly, all of the houses in Banjup were saved and no-one was injured, thanks to the great effort by all of the fire fighters.
However, of the vegetation on private properties and in the nature reserves, including splendid banksia woodland, only blackened tree trunks remained standing – everything else was turned to ash.
By early evening the fire was under control, having reached Tapper Road.
The fire fighters worked all through the night to prevent the fire from starting up again. Brigades from far and wide were called in to assist, from York to Bunbury. For the next 2 weeks they patrolled the area, extinguishing hot spots, including an extensive peat fire in the Buckingham Reserve.
In all, 498 hectares and about 60 private properties in Banjup were impacted by the fire.
Banjup residents thanked the fire fighters effusively for the astounding work they have done.
This map shows the extent of the Banjup fire:
Video footage of the fire drawn from several sources can be downloaded here (10 mins, 42 Mbyte)
You can see the Channel Nine News TV footage of the fire here.
Advice from the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) about recovery of Banjup’s natural woodland is that eucalypts and paperbarks should recover but if the leaf canopy of banksia is burned then the tree will not likely recover – regeneration will come form seed. Banksia will flower within 5 years and will mature between 10 and 15 years.
To give the woodland a good chance of recovery in September/October, veldt grass must be eliminated with herbicide when it first appears in August. If uncontrolled, veldt grass will choke the bushland seedlings and reduce Banjup to grassland.
Veldt grass (Ehrharta calycina), which was introduced into WA as an experimental fodder grass decades ago, has since spread throughout the Perth and south west area.
Quoting from DPaW’s Florabase (http://florabase.dpaw.wa.gov.au/browse/profile/347 ), veldt grass:
“Seed germinates rapidly compared to native species, leading to early dominance. Capable of altering nutrient cycles. Thought to have acid-secreting root hairs which increase the availability of nutrients. Possibly can change soil physical and hydrologic properties over time, including increasing water repellence.”
If not controlled, veldt grass can alter our landscape and severely damage our biodiversity.
Veldt grass must be sprayed with an effective herbicide in July and August as it germinates and starts growing actively. DPaW’s recommended herbicide is FLUAZIFOP-P packed at 212 grams per litre. Trade names for the product are Ezycrop Fluazifop, Novaguard Fluazifop, AC Flare, and Fusilade, all of which will need to be applied by property owners as the veldt grass emerges. (See http://apvma.gov.au/ for more details.) If applied at the end of winter, it will not affect native plants, which germinate in September and October.
To control veldt grass, FLUAZIFOP-P should be applied a rate of 4 litres per hectare. All Banjup properties are in 2 hectare lots but with houses, sheds, garden beds and so on, the area that needs to be controlled will likely be from 1 to 1.5 hectares, so up to 6 litres per property might be required.
DPaW suggests the services of a contractor, Nathan Price, who has sprayed for veldt grass for 20 years in Kings Park. He will charge around $1200 per hectare to spray Fusilade by hand – a bit less if there is access for a quad bike. He can be reached on 0417 997 119.
Further information from DPaW can be obtained from Karen Taylor, who is the operations Officer for the Banksia Woodland Restoration Project. She can be reached at Karen.Taylor@dpaw.wa.gov.au