October 13 - 19, 2013: Issue 132

 Barrenjoey Headland - A Phoenix Landscape Already Rising 

Barrenjoey Headland seed pods on Native trees now open - 12.10.2013. Picture by A J Guesdon. 

 Barrenjoey Headland Bushfire

On Saturday 28th of September 2013 our electricity went off at 2.15 in the afternoon. Almost immediately the first of what was to be over twenty Fire and Rescue and Police vehicles went roaring past our home on their way to Palm Beach. In what now seems to be a deliberately lit fire the beautiful green headland of Barrenjoey was consumed by flames fanned by strong winds. The fire appears to have been started on Smugglers Track, a winding path up to just below the Lighthouse and Lightkeepers cottages which, landscape wise, would have created with only a bit of the wind that was tracing that afternoon, perfect conditions for arsonists to create destruction of life, property and all that grows there.

The Barrenjoey fire has been reported in the UK with images and video appearing in The Telegraph, the UK version of the Huffington Post and others. At one stage a fire was in the roof of one of the buildings atop this healdnad but this was quickly extinguished. The lighthouse and adjacent cottages all intact.

We have not run an article on the bushfire at Barrenjoey Headland because arsonists should not be given the attention they seek. A little therapy is more in order...And... we wanted to wait until the small sprinklings of rains we've had would help the first green shoots to return. They have. For the record, and for our Rural Fire Service Volunteers and those who helped them on this terrible afternoon, and because so many have sent in fantastic photos, we run it this week.

Just yesterday (12.10.2013) a staffer went up the hill to see what may be rising from the blackened earth or have fallen from seed pods which require the heat of a bushfire to open and spill the next generation of Australian bushflowers out. Open they are and the seeds have fallen to earth. 

There were a lot of little flies, drawn in by what has been killed. There were very few birds and only five cicadas sounded out their raucous noise when normally, by this time of year, their chorus may be deafening on the 'Joey.

Although local Pittwater environment folk with decades of experience in regenerating our bush have expressed that this is a good thing for clearing out weeds on Barrenjoey and coercing some species that require fire to regenerate, the headland is also home to a few rare species of birds and animals. The Brush-turkey photographed this month one year ago would have had nowhere to run. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the last colony of koalas on this headland were burnt in the 1967 bushfire. (1.)

Little birds are still on the lower part of the headland though, where green pockets were saved by those who fight fires, and a few currawongs sounded, wattle birds flitted and one lone butcher bird imitating a kookaburra sang a glorious song. She shall rise, we live in a phoenix landscape, it is in her DNA. 

Hills Cat 9 Taskforce at Barrenjoey, courtesy Glenorie RFS

The 28th of September had been dedicated as an Open Day for all of our RFS units, a day on which people could visit these stations, meet the volunteers and get to know a little more about their hard work and what may required should they wish to become part of this, they instead all had to head to Barrenjoey. 80 firefighters and 3 aircraft worked to contain the fire at Barrenjoey Headland and were supported by the good members of the North Palm Beach SLSC whose buggies were used to ferry people up the headland.

From Surf Life Saving Sydney Northern Beaches:

Darryl Dunbar has described it as a 'great team patrol effort' by North Palm Beach Surf Club members that no lives were lost and that Barrenjoey Lighthouse was saved following a bushfire on Saturday.

"We were on patrol when we noticed smoke and fire on Smugglers Track. We immediately contacted the Fire Brigade,'' Darryl said.

Darryl, who has been heavily involved in bushfire fighting, and young Tom Foster then set about to make sure people on the headland came down and were safe.

"Tom also did a doorknock to tell people to evacuate their homes. Meanwhile our patrol members were relaying radio messages,'' Darryl said.

But it was Darryl who drove the club's ATV up there with three members of the Rural Fire Service to access the situation. "There were three portable pumps up there and we had to get them operating,'' he said. "A second ATV was also used to ferry fire fighting resources.''

The RFS units who attended included units from all Pittwater/Warringah RFS units as well as those from further afield. Everyone loves Barrenjoey:

All RFS Units in Pittwater and Warringah plus the Glenorie Rural Fire Brigade crews attended as a part of a Hills District Strike team consisting of Glenorie 9, Glenhaven 9 and Annangrove 9. The 3 Hills vehicles were working with crews from Warringah/Pittwater RFS and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife service. Crews from Hornsby RFS, and Fire & Rescue NSW were also involved in the incident as well as the aforementioned helicopters. 

At 2:19 PM – 28th September 2013 the NSW RFS sent a message to all mobiles of people on the headland -  If you are on Barrenjoey Headland, seek shelter at the lighthouse.

Ingleside RFS volunteers at Barrenjoey Lighthouse fire with one of the North Palm Beach SLSC buggies, courtesy Ingleside RFS.

Recent weather and this Spring’s already hot temperatures, backed up by strong winds, make it imperative that we all get ready for what may be an horrendous bushfire season. From the RFS:

Bush Fire Survival Plan

Planning to make a plan is not a plan. Make your Bush Fire Survival Plan now. Your Bush Fire Survival Plan (PDF 2.8MB) provides valuable information on preparing your home and yourself, and can help stop you from making rushed and dangerous decisions at the last moment.

The NSW Rural Fire Service encourages you to complete your plan with your family, so everyone knows what they will do if a fire starts.

Keep your Plan in a safe place where everyone can see it. Sometimes, no matter how well prepared you are, things don’t go to plan. That’s why, whether you plan to Leave Early or Stay and Defend, you need a back-up plan. Your Bush Fire Survival Plan will help you with this.

For those of you who are already missing the wildflowers that grow on Barrenjoey, we have a pictorial for you. 

We would like to thank all the members of the RFS and public who have contributed images to this page. The Rural Fire service has over 70 thousand volunteer members. If you would like to join or support this great volunteer service you can find out how here.

Barrenjoey will return and she will be greener than ever. If you wish to get involved in putting your hands towards this work, information is included in the following Media Release from NPWS and the NSW Government:

Barrenjoey headland re-opened for long-weekend - Media release: 4 October 2013

Barrenjoey Headland will re-open today after last Saturday’s bushfire. Discovery Guides will be stationed at the top of the headland this Sunday to tell people about the impacts of the fire, recovery program for the buildings and recovery cycle for the environment.

They will also be providing free tours of the lighthouse itself. Unfortunately, two of the buildings can’t be opened at this stage due to minor structural damage.

National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Acting Area Manager Peter Bergman said the area was still very fragile and asked people not to stray from formal marked tracks.

“The weekend showed a fantastic amount of co-operation between all agencies to fight the fire, evacuate members of the public and protect the lighthouse buildings,” Mr Bergman said. “It was an amazing effort by the Rural Fire Service, our NPWS fire fighters, Police and the Pittwater Council lifeguards. We also can’t thank the community enough for their co-operation on the day, and the outpouring of concern for the historic lighthouse and buildings. It really shows what a beloved piece of Sydney’s landscape and history it is.”

Mr Bergman said an erosion specialist and heritage architects had assessed the site.

“There has been some damage to the roof of the Lighthouse Keepers Cottage and assistant Lighthouse Keeper’s cottage, which caught alight from ember attack under the ridge capping, and had to be fought from the inside by RFS and NPWS.

“Some damage occurred as a result of having to force emergency access to the buildings and the use of water. Fortunately no damage was sustained from the direct radiant heat of the fire, which is largely because of an asset protection zone around the buildings.

“NPWS will ensure that appropriate heritage expertise is used to document the necessary repairs to these important buildings.”

Mr Bergman said the NPWS was also hoping to document the regeneration of the bush on the headland.

“Fire is an integral part of the Australian landscape and is designed to cope. If it rains soon, we should start to seen the first sprouts of regrowth within weeks. If it stays dry, regeneration may take a little longer.”

NPWS is planning community working bees on Wednesday, 23 October, and Sunday 3 November, to pick up rubbish and carry out bush regeneration in the burnt areas around the lighthouse precinct and along the tracks. To get involved email Barrenjoey ranger, Rachel Miller, at rachel.miller@environment.nsw.gov.

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Finally, for whoever lit this fire and everyone else who may see someone acting suspiciously elsewhere in Pittwater this Summer, a message this week through the NSW Police Force’s Media Releases. Let’s stamp out these firebugs and rather then helicopter drop them into their own creation as it is happening, as has been suggested by some Pittwaterians, get them the counselling help they so clearly require while they are incarcerated so that when they’re let out again, our families, native animals, plants and heritage buildings are safe:

Police and Rural Fire Service putting heat on firebugs - Wednesday, 09 October 2013 03:04:58 PM

With New South Wales set to experience extreme heat tomorrow, the NSW Police Force, Rural Fire Service and Fire and Rescue NSW are reminding the community they can put the heat on firebugs by reporting any suspicious activity. During last year’s bushfire danger period, from 1 October 2012 to 31 March 2013, legal action was taken against 87 persons for 117 bushfire related offences. Fifty-five of those were juveniles.

With extreme fire conditions expected in the coming days, emergency services are asking members of the community to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity and to report it to police immediately.

Assistant Commissioner Alan Clarke, the Deputy State Emergency Operations Controller said police and the thousands of Rural Fire Service officers, and Fire and Rescue NSW personnel will also be keeping a close watch on any suspicious activity

“The outcomes of bushfires can be catastrophic, and reports of deliberately-lit bushfires are treated extremely seriously,” Assistant Commissioner Clarke said. “We use both overt and covert strategies to detect bushfire arsonists, and anyone caught deliberately lighting of bushfires will be arrested and put before the court where they could face penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment.”

Assistant Commissioner Clarke said the community had an important part to play in bushfire arson investigations.

“If you see someone acting suspiciously, contact police, and if you see a bushfire, phone Triple Zero (000) immediately,” he said.

For information on bushfires, monitor www.rfs.nsw.gov.au or call the Bush Fire Information Line on 1800 679 737.

Police are also reminding people that they could face penalties if found responsible for the accidental lighting of bushfires, including not putting out a fire they have lit.

Strike Force Tronto, comprised of detectives from the Property Crime Squad’s Arson Unit, is the lead investigative body on suspicious or deliberately-lit bushfires which lead to death, serious injury or significant property loss.

The detectives work closely with local area commands and investigators from the NSW Rural Fire Service and Fire and Rescue NSW.

Penalties relating to bushfires under the NSW Crimes Act, the Rural Fires Act, and Rural Fires Regulation include:

- Damaging property with the intention of endangering life – up to 25 years imprisonment;

- Manslaughter – up to 25 years imprisonment;

- Starting a bushfire and being reckless as to its spread – up to 14 years imprisonment;

- Lighting a fire when a total fire ban is in place – up to 12 months imprisonment and/or a $5500 fine;

- Not putting out a fire that you have lit – up to 12 months imprisonment and/or a $5500 fine;

- Failing to comply with a bush fire hazard reduction notice – up to 12 months imprisonment and/or a $5500 fine;

- Light or use a tobacco product within 15metres of any stack of grain, hay corn, straw or any standing crop, dry grass or stubble field – up to a $5500 fine.

Police are urging anyone with information about bushfire arson to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or use the Crime Stoppers online reporting page: https://www1.police.nsw.gov.au/. Information you provide will be treated in the strictest of confidence. We remind people they should not report crime information via our Facebook and Twitter pages.

In a life-threatening emergency or if a bushfire is in progress, members of the public should always phone Triple Zero (000).

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References:

1. Sparks, Jervis. 1995. The Barranjoey Lighthouse Track – A nature walk into history.

Barrenjoey on Fire - Image courtesy Tumbledown Dick RFS 

Fire Units on Station Beach, Barenjoey. Image courtesy Gelnorie RFS. 

Photographed from RFS Helicopter - image courtesy NSW RFS. 

Palm Beach SLSC members at North Palm Beach as the blaze descends to the regenerated sand dune area - this work has also been carried out by North Palm Beach SLSC members and members of Bushcare Groups at Palmie. Picture courtesy Rex.

Aftermath 

Image Courtesy Gelnorie RFS.

 Photo from the top of Barrenjoey Lighthouse by Gary Sambridge, RFS.

 Photo of the headland which shows how incredibly hot the fire burnt and how close it came to the Lighthouse. Photo by Angus Bullough RFS.

Image courtesy Ingelside RFS. 

After the Aftermath!