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Weather and Climate: Tathra Natural Disaster Report

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Updated: Jun 8th, 2021

Introduction

Natural disasters present significant threats to the population and the environment. They may cause severe damages to people’s houses and property, as well as result in poor health outcomes and deaths. It is vital to discuss the causes of natural disasters to develop strategies for mitigating their consequences. This research report presents the investigation of the Tathra bushfire. The paper discusses the affected areas, the causes of the hazard, and its impacts. In addition, the report suggests solutions for managing similar disasters in the future.

The 2018 Tathra Bushfire

The natural disaster selected for this report is the Tathra bushfire. The bushfire occurred between 18 and 19 March 2018 and affected the South Coast region of New South Wales in Australia. The report by The Guardian shows that fire destroyed 65 houses and 35 caravans and cabins; almost 50 houses were damaged (Knaus). As a result of the Tathra bushfire, more than 150 individuals had to relocate to temporary accommodations, alongside those who had to find shelter at their families’ and friends’ homes.

Some of the affected people had to spend around 18 months in temporary accommodations (Knaus). No individuals died during the Tathra bushfire, however, hundreds of dairy cattle were killed (Schipp et al.). As a result of the hazard, more than 1,200 hectares were burned out. The bushfire was characterized by high speed and sporadic patterns.

The disaster occurred in the forests near the bank of Bega River and Tathra, a small town in the Far South Coast region of New South Wales. The fire crossed the river and moved towards Thomson drive.

As shown in Figure 1, the Tathra bushfire affected more than 60% of properties in Thomson drive, as well as the Tathra residential area (Mumtaz et al. 14). The image reveals that the majority of destroyed houses were not close to the forest; the fire was caused by ember attacks. It is necessary to mention that in the Tathra region, such hazards occur once every three years (Mumtaz et al. 6). The area is characterized by a higher forest growth rate due to a high annual rainfall compared to other locations, which results in frequent and large fires.

Areas affected by the Tathra bushfire
Figure 1. Areas affected by the Tathra bushfire (Mumtaz et al. 13).

Causes of the Bushfire

Several factors contributed to the spread of the Tathra bushfire. The primary cause of the hazard was the failure in electrical infrastructure (O’Brien et al. 3). This fact reveals a significant problem in the maintenance of power lines. The authorities of New South Wales had been focused on reducing costs at Essential Energy, the company that is responsible for electrical infrastructure in the region. The local government had reduced its workforce by around 40% along with decreasing capital expenditure by more than 35% (O’Brien et al.). These actions resulted in higher risks of hazards for the population and had a potential impact on the reliability of infrastructure. Thus, the failure in power lines and the bushfire can be considered a result of the local government’s negligence.

One of the factors that contributed to the development of the hazard was the weather conditions. There was a strong wind, and the temperatures reached almost 40C that day (“Bushfire in Tathra”). It is vital to consider other peculiarities of the area, which include a low level of humidity and increased dryness (Mumtaz et al. 6). As the Tathra region is located in the south, it is more prone to bushfires, especially in the dry season. Another factor contributing to the hazard was fuel moisture content (FMC), determined by the amount of water per dry mass in forest fuel (Mumtaz et al. 7). In February and March of 2018, FMC was decreased, as a result of which the chances of fire reached approximately 90%. As a result, it was easier for the bushfire to spread quickly.

Social, Economic, and Environmental Impacts of the Tathra Bushfire

The hazard had several social, economic, and environmental impacts that should be outlined. As mentioned above, many individuals were deprived of their homes due to the bushfire. The main social impact of the hazard was that it has affected not only people’s possessions and health but their mental state as well. Many members of the local community reported that the experience of the Tathra bushfire had been horrible and that it has been challenging for them to manage their negative memories (Thomas). One of the initiatives created as a response measure to the hazard is the Tathra Firebirds, the meetings during which individuals have an opportunity to work on personal or community projects. It is possible to say that many people affected by the bushfire are still recovering from this experience.

The main economic impact of the Tathra bushfire is that many houses, caravans, and cabins were destroyed in addition to the damages of roads, the water system, electrical infrastructure of the area. As mentioned above, the full process of recovery may last up to 18 months (Knaus). The reports on the hazard do not indicate the particular amount of financial investments required to maintain the consequences of the bushfire but it is evident that the Australian government and local authorities have spent many funds to mitigate the outcomes of the hazard.

It is possible to say that the greatest environmental impact of the Tathra bushfire is smoke that affected individuals’ health. In addition, as mentioned above, the fire made the water system unavailable for the population of the area, which means that people had had a lack of water supply until the recovery measures were implemented. Moreover, the bushfire burned out many hectares of forests, which means that local authorities may need to plant new trees to support the environment.

Solutions for the Future

It is vital to develop solutions that prevent bushfires from occurring and spreading. The significance of preventing bushfires in the future is determined by the fact that Australia is prone to such types of disasters. Mumtaz et al. report that fires are the most common natural hazards in the country; the problem is especially crucial because there are almost 125 hectares of forests in Australia (4). However, is it is challenging to predict wildfire behavior.

Mumtaz et al. report that forecasting requires information about the peculiarities of the geographical location, as well as the quality and quantity of forest fuel (8). In addition, it is vital to know the density and moisture of forests along with the relative humidity and wind measurements. Nevertheless, several solutions to manage this type of hazard in the future can be suggested.

First, it may be necessary to implement fuel reduction techniques. The purpose of this strategy is to minimize the amount of fuel available in forests and, consequently, decrease the spread of bushfires and the damage caused by them. Such techniques allow for the modification of the forest fuel structure and the distribution of moisture content. As a result of the implementation of this approach, a bushfire will spread slower and it will be easier for the firefighters to control the hazard. Fuel reduction techniques may include prescribed burning and mechanical fuel load reduction (MFLR) (Mumtaz et al. 8).

The first strategy has significant benefits, including biodiversity management, low implementation cost, reduction of the population of insects, and heating of some native plants, which helps them to regenerate. However, it is difficult to implement this approach because there is a high chance of fire escape, along with adverse consequences for human health and wildlife habitat. MFLR, or mechanical thinning, is determined by the removal of plants or their parts with mechanical tools (Mumtaz et al. 8). This strategy can minimize the risk of bushfires and reduce their intensity.

Second, it is crucial to develop strategies aimed to increase public awareness about the potential causes of bushfires. For instance, individuals should know that the use of heaters, stoves, and fueling lanterns while camping may be dangerous and requires cautiousness. In addition, people should not discard smoking materials on park grounds or from moving vehicles as it increases the risks of bushfires too.

The government or local communities may establish training sessions or campaigns aimed to educate the population on the measures they can take to prevent such hazards. Finally, it is vital to enhance the rescue forces’ ability to respond to bushfires rapidly. Authorities should implement well-developed fire action plans and ensure collaboration among firefighters and emergency services. The strategies mentioned above can reduce the risk of such a type of natural disaster significantly and minimize its potential outcomes.

Conclusion

The Tathra bushfire was a hazard that damaged and destroyed almost 150 houses within two days. The disaster affected many individuals, some of which have been recovering from this experience to this day. The bushfire was caused by a failure in electrical infrastructure. Possible solutions to address such hazards in the future include fuel reduction techniques, such as MFLR, as well as enhancing public awareness of the causes of fires along with the rescue forces’ ability to respond to them timely.

Works Cited

ABC News, 2018. Web.

Knaus, Christopher. “The Guardian, 2018. Web.

Mumtaz, Muhammad Asim et al. . 2018. Web.

O’Brien, James et al. “Tathra 2018 Bushfires.” Risk Frontiers Newsletter, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 3-4. Web.

Schipp, Debbie et al. “Bushfire Crisis: ‘Superblaze’ Fears in Vic; ‘Too Late to Leave’ in NSW.” News.com.au, 2018. Web.

Thomas, Kerrin. “ABC News. 2018. Web.

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