Bushfire in the Victorian Alps
The 2019/20 Black Summer Bushfires, where significant fires were burning in northern and southern NSW, eastern Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia at the same time, has stretched the nation’s resources and capability to respond to such events. A clue to the reason for the extensive fires can be found in the data recorded by the Bureau of Meteorology. Much of eastern Australia in 2019 was:
- The driest on record for the three year period January 2017 to December 2019. Mean national rainfall was 100 mm lower than the previous driest three-year period (1965-67).
- 2019 was the warmest year on record for Australia.
- Severe fire weather conditions (national annual accumulated Forest Fire Danger Index) throughout 2019 were the highest they have been since national records began in 1950.
In Victoria, >1.5M ha of land was burnt, mostly in the east of the State, with profound impacts on many native animals, plants and landscapes. Some fires did affect alpine areas, including at Mt Buffalo National Park and the Alpine National Park. The extent of fires (at January 2020) is shown below (in red). Importantly, it is obvious that fires have been frequent, extensive and – in some places – repeated since 2003. It is the frequency of fire (what ecologists call the ‘fire return interval’) that will dictate the likelihood of ecosystem recovery. Looking closely at the map, you can see some high mountain areas have been burnt in 2003 and 2020, while others have been burnt in 2013 and 2020, and others near Hotham Heights have been burnt in 2003, 2013 and 2019.
Fire history map for the Victorian High Country, produced by Thomas Fairman.
Here’s a selection of photos that document the type of burning that has occurred in the Victorian Alps. The RCAAE will be monitoring the recovery of alpine ecosystems – utilising it’s network of long-term plots – to determine the ecological resilience of these areas.
Burnt heathland and grassland, north of The Horn, Mt Buffalo
Alpine heathland, grassland and wetland dominated by Sphagnum cristatum has been burnt at Mt Buffalo, south of The Horn
Forested slopes have been burnt, south of The Horn, Mt Buffalo
Obligate-seeding shrubs – like Grevillea australis – are killed by fire
Hovea is a resprouting shrub, recovering from basal buds, Mt Buffalo
Not all tussock grasses resprout well after fire. Here, Poa clivicola in an alpine grassland at Buckety Plain appears to have died when the canopy is consumed.
Snowgum forests near Mt Cope have had their heathy understorey consumed by fire. Note the leaves of the trees have been scorched by the heat of fire rather than consumed by fire.