Miranda’s Daily Blog: Day 127
The smoke is suffocating. It had come across the valley quickly. Only a moment earlier I had taken a look out across the distant mountains and turned my head back for a second look. The gathering smoke had looked at first like innocent clouds floating above the ridges, but on the second look I could see the distinct thickness and dark colouring tinted with orange that distinguished them from the regular clouds gathered around them. I quickly checked my laptop to see if the Tasmanian Fire Service had listed any bush fires nearby, but there were none. When I looked up again the smoke had shifted from the neat clouds in the distance, to a thick layer of smoke that began to cover the entire forest. Drifting into every gap between the trees, into the valleys, over the mountains, taking over every breath of air. The bright sunny afternoon that I had been enjoying suddenly turned dark, with a looming apocalyptic sense of doom. The blackness filled the sky, and air thick and dense that it was hard to breathe. It was the beginning of the Forestry burn season.
If you have ever seen a high intensity burn you will know what I am talking about. When the helicopters drop their napalm-like substance into the dried out clear-fells an enormous mushroom cloud explodes into the sky. Giving the unnerving feeling that a war has been declared on the forest. The smoke rising up like the aftermath of a bomb. The fires assault the last remnants of life that have survived against all odds in desolate landscape of clearfells. Any insects that have escaped the falling of trees, the crushing weight of machine tracks, and the upturning of the soil, will be consumed by the furious flames. Any ferns that huddle close to creeks in the so-called buffer zones, that have battled tirelessly since the logging against the sudden exposure to wind and sun, will now lose their final battle, blackening and dying in the wake of the fire.
If you have ever walked through a clearfell that still smolders in the aftermath of forestry burns you will know what I am talking about. You will know the smell that assaults your nostrils making it hard to breathe. It is not the smell of wildfire. It has a strange smell that is hard to put your finger on, that is reminiscent of some strange chemical experiment in a science laboratory. It is a smell that does not belong in the forest. You will know the feel of radiating heat that burns through your shoes as you trump through the bed of ash. The scene is like a postapocalyptic world. It becomes almost impossible to recollect what once stood there. The lush green rainforest, babbling creeks, fern gullies seem like a whole world away, as you stand amongst blackened stumps, smoke still escaping silently from their charcoalled shells. Every thing is shade of black or grey. Even you, as the smoke and ash begin to stick to your skin and clothes. The smell of smoke with it’s strange hint of chemicals will linger on your skin long after you’ve left. And even longer you will find the scene of death and destruction will linger in your mind. It will flash past your memory suddenly, like a sad prediction of the future, next time you are standing by a creek that is bursting with ferns, and moss-laden sassafras trees.
I long for fresh air as the darkness of the smoke swallows my tree. It’s hard to breath. I can feel the smoke in the back of my throat, my lungs, my eyes. You don’t have to be sitting at the top of a tree in the forest to feel the impact though. The smoke makes it’s way through towns. Leaving it’s mark on the clean white sheets hung out to dry on suburban clothes lines. And most of all leaving its mark on the insides of the lungs of those who suffer from asthma. The forestry burn season is always a more difficult time for asthma sufferers in Tasmania. To the point where it has been recommended that people who suffer from asthma should stay indoors! Why is it that in Tasmania the logging industry is valued more than public health?
Below is a slide-show of images taken on April 4th 2012. The images depict two logging coupes. One in the Weld Valley where conservationists gathered to display a banner reading “Stop selling forest destruction.” The other is in the Plenty valley, where a burn off was taking place in a logged coupe. Both these areas are within the 572,000 hectare area of proposed new forest reserves that have now been verified as high conservation value. They are areas that should have been in a moratorium, yet have now been felled and burnt. The images are taken by Rob Blakers and Peter Maarsaveen.