wildfires in the Top End Dry Season

This is a warning for any birders thinking of travelling to the Top End.

According to the ABC (4 July) fireworks started 679 wildfires on Territory Day, July 1st. One of those fires in the rural area killed many pet animals including black cockatoos and a crocodile, destroyed a home, and threatened lives. These fires were fuelled by gamba grass and exacerbated by higher than usual maximum temperatures, strong winds, and low humidity.

The Chief Minister, Michael Gunner, says there are no plans to move Territory Day from the Dry Season. Yet, this year wildfires serious enough to reach into forest canopy 20 m. high occurred as early as the late Wet Season. By July the Top End was a tinder box. Given increasing maximum temperatures and the continuing spread of gamba grass I consider his decision to be irresponsible. At the very least it demonstrates little care for those at risk, and that includes birders.

Many good birding spots are now infested with gamba grass. Please stay away from them throughout the Dry Season. Gamba-fuelled fires can reach tens of metres in height, and they are very hot. They also move very fast, particularly in areas where there are few trees. The pet animals that died may well have been killed by radiant heat (the owner had cleared a large area around his aviary). Also, you may pick up some of the very fine gamba grass seed in your clothes or on your vehicle. Rangers and landholders have already identified this as a source of spread.

Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow Ph.D., B.A., Grad. Dip.
PO Box 71
Darwin River, NT, Australia 0841
043 8650 835

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