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Aussie bushfire crisis

How should we respond to Australia’s current bushfire situation?


Published: 17 January 2020 (GMT+10)
Helitak430, Creative Commons Attribution- Share Alike 4.0 International1280px-Yanderra_Bushfire
The Green Wattle Creek bush fire moves towards the Southern Highlands township of Yanderra in late December 2019 as police evacuate residents from Yanderra Road.

Australia’s current bushfire crisis (Summer 2019–2020) has set ablaze news headlines as it has the land. The current death toll stands at 26 with some still missing. Millions of hectares of land have been burned and the estimates of wildlife lost are staggering.

On a personal note, staff in the Aussie office are fine. We are in a metropolitan area and the worst we encountered was bad smoke haze (we were advised to stay indoors as much as possible for a good week or so) back in November, although this was more of a precaution for those with respiratory conditions such as asthma. However, every staff member here knows of someone who has been directly impacted by the fires.

Unfortunately, many of the fires in Australia were lit by firebugs (not an insect, but rather people with a penchant for setting fires; that is, arsonists). The current arrest toll sits at well over 100 for just 2019 for arson related offences.1 Some of these people have undertaken a deliberate fire-lighting act, while others were careless in their actions .2 Professor Ogloff from Swinburne University estimates about 50% of bushfires were lit by firebugs,1 but records show that this figure has been much higher in the past.2 The cause of every bushfire cannot be determined (there’s a large percentage treated as suspicious, but ultimately the cause is not yet known or will never be found).3

While not all intentions are harmful, the outcome has been not only loss of property and wildlife, but loss of human life. Couple that with a lack of controlled hazard-reduction burning during the cooler part of the previous years and a particularly hot, dry summer and you have a recipe for disaster. That’s exactly what we’ve got.4 These bushfires may be reported as unprecedented, but they are not unexpected.

NASA Earth Observatory image, Joshua Stevens, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS/LANCE and GIBS/Worldview.australia_amo_2020004
Smoke from the massive bushfires engulfs southeastern Australia. NASA images indicate the smoke will soon circle the earth.

Worldview impacts

Thus the terrible fires have had a tragic impact, and exposed ongoing mismanagement over decades. This illustrates that there is a worldview framing the thinking. In the modern secular view, based on the narrative of evolution over millions of years, humans are the late-comers to the scene. The environment worked perfectly well for hundreds of millions of years before humans arrived. In other words, get humans out of the equation and it will work much better. That is what has been done, and we see how well that has worked—not.

In the biblical view, humans were created to care for and rule over the earth, and everything in it. Genesis 1:28: God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

This is a fundamental worldview conflict. It is difficult to see the environmentalists and secularists backing away from their position. That is just the way they think, how they look at the world. Rather, they will look for a way forward that is consistent with their worldview, which may be more radical and lead to more problems.5

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10

Clearly, the idea that humans are a virus plaguing the earth is a false one. We have been put here by God and told to manage and care for His creation.

It was never meant to be this way

We’re all seeing the devastating footage of kangaroos fleeing infernos, the blackened remains of wildlife scattered by roadsides and huge blazes consuming homes. The media is there to film that grief-stricken moment when people return to find their homes are a pile of rubble and ash … It is heart-breaking.

AAP Image/David Mariuz/via Reuters2020-01-07-australia-fires-wildlife
Koala rescued from bushfire area by Simon Adamczyk, January 2020. The bushfires caused enormous loss of animal life and destruction of habitat.

While many animals have been lost, there are a surprising number that have survived. Wombats have wandered out through charred bush land after huddling in their burrows. Terrified koalas have stumbled out of burned areas6 seeking water from passers-by. Our wildlife has an incredible sense to know when fire and danger are approaching.7 These animals can often smell smoke or detect the sound of fire at distance. What amazing designs God has created within each of these creatures.

However, all this destruction winds up with people asking the same question. “Why?” Or even “Why has this happened to me? Why have I lost my home?” and “What did all those animals do to deserve this?”

Seeing the singed fur on kangaroos brings a pang of sadness. All this hurts. Something is wrong. And that’s exactly what we should recognise at this point. Something is wrong. Death and suffering are wrong. As Christians, we should be reminded that death is an intrusion into this world. It is a result of sin—a fallen world, in bondage to decay (Romans 8). Sin entered this world and corrupted God’s perfect creation. And every time we see the frightened face of an otherwise adorable koala, we should be reminded that it is not the way God originally created it.

Why do we care?

Undoubtedly, one of the most heart-warming things to come out of this season is the knowledge that people all over the globe care about Aussies and Australia. Significant sums of money have been donated to help our fire brigades, to provide urgent relief for the people who have been evacuated and/or lost their homes, and to assist wildlife.

Why do people feel the need to help? Why is there such an urge to give when we see images like those of the poor little koalas with burned feet? Our furry friends are doing it tough, so why not help them out? People’s homes have been burned to the ground; why not give them a hand to get back on their feet? It really seems to punch people right in the ‘feels’.

It truly has been amazing to see the outpouring of love. There is an innate sense that so much destruction isn’t right. As Christians, we can recognise that this sense of right and wrong is the God-given conscience at work. Where the blame for the fires is laid, though, will certainly differ depending on our worldview.

What should we do?

CMI supporters have been affected by these bushfires. As Christians, we are called to help those in need (Hebrews 6 and 13). We recognise that many of you support us along with other organisations (and we thank you for your generosity!)

We would encourage you though, to be reminded of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). If we are in a position to help, then let’s do that. Be the compassionate people that Christ commanded us to be and glorify God this way (Matthew 5). Whether that is giving of our time, efforts, finances or helping people to understand why bad things happen—it’s all part of our job. Here are some of our resources that might help you and others to understand about why we experience bad things:

Lastly, please pray. Pray for rain and for a turning back to Christ in this country.

References and notes

  1. Ross, D. and Reid, I., Bushfire: Firebugs fuelling crisis as arson arrest toll hits 183. theaustralian.com.au/nation/bushfires-firebugs-fuelling-crisis-asarson-arresttollhits183/news-story/52536dc9ca9bb87b7c76d36ed1acf53f. 8th January 2020. Return to text.
  2. Australian Institute of Criminology. Proportion of deliberate bushfires in Australia. aic.gov.au/publications/bfab/bfab051, March 2008. Return to text.
  3. Bryant, C., Understanding bushfire: trends in deliberate vegetation fires in Australia. https://aic.gov.au/publications/tbp/tbp027. January 2008. Return to text.
  4. Nights with John Stanley, 2GB Scientist David Packham on what’s really causing the bushfires, 2gb.com/podcast/scientist-david-packham-on-whats-really-causing-the-bushfires/?fbclid=IwAR2eaWp6mMIgVmfOa7pn2zvyrw_nPEsfzlTI57v5cKsfYKn57U9RpqLcYrU. 19 December 2019. Return to text.
  5. Walker, T., Facebook post. 7 January 2020. Return to text
  6. Hannam, P. and Geraghty, K., Rescued koala brings ‘ray of sunshine after nightmare’ on fire ground. smh.com.au/national/nsw/rescued-koala-brings-ray-of-sunshine-after-nightmare-on-fire-ground-20200105-p53p1i.html. 5 January 2020. Return to text.
  7. Nimmo, D., Animals have an astounding response to bushfire. These are the tricks they use to survive. theconversation.com/animal-response-to-a-bushfire-is-astounding-these-are-the-tricks-they-use-to-survive-129327. 8 January 2020. Return to text.

Readers’ comments

Paul R.
While everything written by the author , and contributors ,I agree with ; there's also good old greed in the equation ..!!! Those setting themselves up as "prophets of doom" and jetsetting around the world to tell us why we're wrong and need to sacrifice our livelihoods/lifestyles so they can bring their mantra to bear (while they continue unabated in their excesses) They have a lifestyle ,and income source , they need to protect. To me , it has a parallel of the Pharisees and Saducees during our Lords' time walking with a rebellious and stiff-necked people ; the "rulers" loaded the people with rules and regulations , and continued onwards in their privileged social positions - they profited while 'their' people suffered. Also , in this equation , is the push from the mindset that "religion is the opiate of the masses" their ascendency is being noted in the well orchestrated protests that have been occurring .. By not stewarding the resources which God has given us in his Creation , our lives suffer ;and those who have prevented timely and proper stewarding from happening need to be exposed. While this Creation has flaws (as a result of sin entering the world , including me) it's still filled with wonders and marvels which your magazine brings to light frequently ; and it's my home until Jesus takes me home ..
Peter F.
Thank you for printing the views above. I live in the hinterland of Coffs Harbour and this year has been a corker but that is because as an 81 year old I feel the heat and can understand why old fellas like me succumb and die. 40 years ago our river had less water so 'we have seen it before'. Israel Folau made the comment that the fires are there because of the fall. My Pastor says the planet is 'doomed'. Our Prime Minister [God Bless him] states that there is now a 'new normal' and I think he is right. Some property owners don't have insurance, probably because they can't get it because of the sensitive area they live in and is the answer to the problem?
My thoughts are that the 'new normal' should be that the care of our island is the responsibility of the Federal Government, just as Adam was put in charge of the Garden of Eden and proper land care measures should be put in place [control burning as did our Indigenous brothers!]. Expensive? Yes, but so is the replacement of everything that has been lost both financially and emotionally..
The Bureau of Meteorology seems to present a sober report on the immediate future of the weather by stating that the Dipole off Western Australia coast is breaking down and will result in good rains [it is happening] which to me suggests that it is 'nature' at work, not contamination by man.
Helen C.
Cannot one be a Christian and an environmentalist? I think caring for the environment is an important part of being a Christian. I felt so sad to read this article regarding the bushfires because it is ignoring so many important issues regarding changing rainfall patterns in Australia as well as increasing temperatures. So disappointing that as Christians you have ignored this.
Clare Williams
Technically speaking, an environmentalist is "a person who is concerned about protecting the environment." God has provided us with clear instructions to care for the environment (mentioned more than once in the article). However, I would advise caution about those who use 'environmentalism' as a front for their own agendas.
Ray N.
Problem with current mainstream climate science is the short-sightedness to fit an agenda. There are temperature cycles within temperature cycles within temperature cycles and so on. We can easily observe the daily cycle and the annual one, but there's also multi-year, multi-decade ones that gets overlooked. Possibly even multi-century cycles.
Imagine taking a trend of the daily average temperatures, for a 100 days, starting from the end of winter, draw a straight line to extrapolate, and then say the oceans are going to boil in 500 days.
I did a little test on Excel, adding 2 sinusoidal curves, one representing a 12-year cycle and one 150-year cycle, take a snippet of 30-year average, and graph the deviations and came up with a graph that closely resembles the graph in the Australian BOM website. It was only a simulation, cos we don't have enough temperature data going back a few centuries. Anything beyond one's lifetime is too long for most to comprehend. With a lot of climate activist being of the younger generation, they see this 'winter-to-summer'-like trend and think the world is burning up. It might be a decade until the trend starts to change direction, but it will eventually happen, like in the last few millennium.

On another note, the narrative that humans are the problem and we have a problem with over-population is that people are starting to care less about human lives. If you believe there are too many humans in the world; abortion, euthanasia, forced population control becomes acceptable. The death of an animal, especially from an endangered species breaks more heart than an aborted fetus.
David G.
If I could make a reply to Mark R.
There has been a small gradual increase in 'global' temperature over the past 150 or so years. Coming out of the 'Little Ice Age' this is unremarkable. However to measure an average is difficult (Essex et al, 2006 'Is there a global temperature' in J. Non-Equilibrium Thermodynamics). That said, it would be very difficult to separate out the marginal contribution of slightly higher temperatures and their ramifications from the normal high variability of Australia's climate. Droughts, extreme temperatures and unusual low relative humidity are 'normal' in Australia. We must also not confuse 'average' and 'normal'. Average is a 'location' in a dataset, and changes from period to period; a running average is possibly more useful. But 'normal' is a 'shape', reflected by the Normal Distribution curve. For practical purposes, the long range normal might be taken as being within one or two standard deviations of the average for the long run data. But very hard to make headlines out of that.
James M.
A good article. But I think you do your readers a disservice by perpetuating the myth that these fires are'unprecedented'.

As can be found in most responsible media (unfortunately a small minority) and the historic files, both Ash Wednesday and Black Saturday killed many more people than these fires have killed so far.

And the 1974 fire season saw an area over 20 times as large burnt out across south-east Australia. Compared to many of our historical fire seasons this on has not set any records at all.

What is 'unprecedented' is the hysterical reporting, driven by the climate change fanatics, that has caused so much unwarranted fear and angst among the people of this country and, indeed, the world.

Australia is burning the headlines scream. No it isn't, only a small part of the south east is burning and it is our own fault that it is. Settle everybody, the solution is simple and on hand.
Philip U.
The fires aren't unprecedented. As recently as ten years ago the Black Saturday fires killed 173 people (there was much less interest from overseas because the 'climate change' story didn't come into play). It was truly dreadful.
In 1851 the Black Thursday fires burnt out a similar area of land as the current fires (5 million hectares), killing 12 people.
In 1983 the horrific Ash Wednesday bushfires killed 75 people.
I suspect that the vagaries of the wind had much to do with the rapid spreading of fires this year, as well as the dry conditions and heavy fuel load. One thing that was unprecedented about these fires was the amount of public attention sought by the main public figures and the media's reaction to the events, all of which was melodramatic and reactionary in the extreme, rather than being sensible and calm. The prime minister was thus lambasted for taking on a mature and sensible leadership role.
It is likely that over the next year or two the Hunter River will flood in one of the nation's most populous districts. A major flood is overdue, and they tend to come after a long dry spell. No doubt this too will be regarded as unprecedented and unexpected, and the fault of 'climate change'. Post Christian society is losing its grip on reality, seeming to believe that the natural environment is a fomenting source of chaos which must be placated and appeased, rather than being God's structured creation.
Derek B.
A big tragedy. Also sad to see the way the Greenies and media have used this tragedy to push their political agenda regarding man made climate change with complete disregard for the other more pressing factors that need to be addressed. To the extent that Greenie activism is hampering a sensible cold burning program and clearing of vegetation around dwellings it has contributed to this tragedy.

The same issues were raised back in the 2009 Victorian bush fires that claimed the lives of 170 people. Fire chiefs were complaining then about the lack of cold burning. Residents were complaining about laws and draconian fines that prevented clearing around dwellings. Those laws and fines persisted in some of the worst affected councils after the fires.

Then again, if evolution is true, natural catastrophes, extinction of species, death, cruelty and suffering are all grist for the mill. Why bother about biodiversity or the bush and cute, cuddly, koalas and kangaroos being incinerated. In such a world, if virtue exists, it must be a callous indifference toward others needs, cruelty, selfishness, greed, exploitation of the weak and vulnerable, and short term expediency that serves my ends. Sounding familiar?

Clearly these two world views collide. The fact that so many people claim to be Greenies and also insist that we are the product of evolution shows how deluded they've become. Scripture teaches God created our universe as a home for humanity. Man was intended to rule over God's creation and to care for it. God clearly sanctions people killing and eating animals. Of course many Greenies find those ideas repulsive. As with evolution, Christians should challenge and expose Greenie dogma that seeks to supplant God's truth.
Richard W.
I am surprised that the first line of this article was not "pray for rain", it came on the last line!!! How often is it that we only turn to God as a last resort not as the first response.
Guilty as charged. For it took me until New Years Day, and then at the prompt of another person to suggest it, before I started to pray for rain. I guess it took some time for faith, in the face of a drought and the start of the dry season, to mature into action. Fortunately I continued praying and name the weekend as the time I wanted to see rain. Such rejoicing on the Monday morning when I saw the headlines that rain had fallen, some of it torrential. Sadly not enough!!
However my faith is now stirred to believe God for more rain, as much as is needed for this January to be declared the wettest in the fire affected areas, hopefully that will be enough to put the fires out, BUT God is still sovereign.
I would love to see a National (Australian) churchman call for a day of prayer for rain and nominate a day for rain to fall and put out the fires. Is it enough to expect the Pope, Archbishop of Canterbury and Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church (et al) get to gather and call a world wide day of prayer for rain in Australia.
Let us (those reading this), who believe in the God of the Bible, Abraham, Issac and Jacob, who whilst on earth quelled the storm, ask Him for rain, enough to put out the fires completely, to the amazement of Meteorologists worldwide.
Clare Williams
Thanks for commenting Richard. I'd like to think that we aren't saying to pray for rain as a last resort. Rather, prayer is mentioned last because it is probably the most important thing we can do—regardless of where we are. It is final, because I wanted that to be the call to action for our readers. :-)

Also, many Christian groups in Australia have called for prayer. Notably, The Canberra Declaration ran a campaign for '31 days of Prayer and Fasting' (back in October before the fires were 'big news') and the Australian Christian Lobby have called for prayer too.
Melvyne C.
Appallingly tragic is the burning fire loss of human and animal life along with their homes with resultant general suffering. Apparently, the burning of fossil fuels the main culprit. Apparently not. Little credence seems to be given to the scientific fact that the earth is losing its magnetic shield and the magnetic pole is shifting. The reduction in the earth's magnetic shield or magnetosphere is now allowing more radiation from the sun to get through. Check it out: it should be a big story.
John P.
Would it not be wonderful if this tragedy resulted in a massive revival and Australia really did become the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit, which it likely will be in the Millenium. God is always sovereign over His world and He can turn evil into good, if we leave it in His hands.The indigenous people of this country practised controlled burning but the lefties and greenies have ignored this instead of copying them. Fire tracks in forests allow for easier access for fighting fires. Some bushland is virtually inaccessable and when these types of fires get a start in that sort of country, coupled with drought and ferocious winds they are almost unstoppable from a human viewpoint. These fires create their own environment-clouds and even rain, as I read somewhere (probably in the local newspaper). God still does miracles, though, and there are such stories I am sure, in this tragedy. Regarding help, some centres I rang were already inundated- this is a real blessing. Some people help in these situations but sadly there are those who do the opposite-eg looters and so on
Lindsay F.
I am surprised that this article has not mentioned climate change but I do see it mentioned in comments. As a 61 year old Australian I must have a better memory than most. These fires are continually called "unprecedented" but that depends on how it is measured. If it is measured by the amount of property damage then it is probably true, if you use worst drought or highest temperature then I highly doubt it and I give examples below. I have a memory of a drought from when I was in primary school and people were saying it was the worst drought they had ever seen, My mother (who grow up on a farm) said when she was young there was one that was worse. On the news they regularly say " worst in a hundred years" and it is hard to compare much earlier than that as I believe records only stated in 1880. The earliest record I could find on an internet list of a bush fire was in 1851 that destroyed 5 million ha and killed 1 million sheep, I remember at school that an early Australian explorer was complaining about the temperature on one of his journeys. With another search I found it was Charles Sturt where thermometers that went up to 128° f (53°c) were exploding. In the poem "My Country" by Dorothea Mackellar first published 1908 it is clear she has seen the best and worse of Australia's climate. Is the climate changing? Yes, always has and always will. I am frustrated how even if you acknowledge that but don't agree that it is almost totally human caused then you are called a "climate change denier" and these bush fires would not have happen if the PM had done something about it. The media would have it that man causing it is undeniable truth and you are an idiot if you don't believe yet with the many every day people I have spoken to recently everyone agrees with me.
Clare Williams
You know, I tend to agree. It seems like every crisis our country faces is called 'unprecedented' ... when in fact, we have faced similar before. The media love to add hype. The Black Saturday fires of 2009 (a situation we also wrote about and have an article on in the 'Related articles' section) had far more loss of human life.

How do we measure all of this though; how do we measure destruction? What categorizes an event for it to be called 'the worst ever'? Is it the loss of human life, loss of wildlife, the loss of property or the amount of land scorched? You raise a great point here.
Egil W.
People lighting fires either out of deliberate wickedness, or because of mindless carelessness for the danger they put other humans or animal life and necessary vegetation in, are symptoms of the sinful human nature.

The solution is not to call ‘humanity’ a pest, but the Fall - Sin - in its callous and heartless and cruel nature - a pest, and welcome the Remedy: universal repentance from sin.

The wages of sin is Death.


And we see it in the news... every day.

It destroys the creation of God; human life, animal life, the stability of nature.

Sin is the door to living under curse.

Sin invites curse.

Some things can only be spiritually discerned.

But even pain and seeing suffering as it is, - horrible in its grim reality - may scream in the ears of the spiritually stubborn and deaf... something is wrong, oh so wrong.

And - perhaps - , just perhaps - some may wake up.

In time.
Murk P.
Years of insufficient controlled burning (cause trees are people too).
Coupled with legislation that made it illegal to cut fire lanes (cause trees are people too).
Coupled with legislation that made it illegal to remove deadfall (cause the critters that live in them are people too).
Coupled with a hot dry year (not the hottest or driest this century).
Entailed a lot of those people like trees and critters died.
It’s like the well meaning people who chased the seagulls away when the first baby turtles hatched and made the journey to the Ocean.
They meant to save turtle.
However when the majority of the turtles walked to the ocean the seagulls ate them.
This is because the first turtles (a few in comparison) make the journey the seagulls get some. Then nothing happens and the seagulls leave. Then the turtles have a window to make it. The well meaning people wrecked this process.

As we do with not allowing to remove deadfall, cut fire lines, and limit controlled burning.

People build towns and cities this is good.

Because of this we need to do things to prevent them from burning down this is good.

This means we can’t let lightning strikes burn the forest / Bush down near a town - rather we have to intelligently exercise our dominion and cut fire lanes, reduce fuel base by removing it and / or controlled burns.

The left is nuts calling for the resignation of the PM.

This was years in the making.

It might even have a benefit- since God is sovereign (like extreme cold here in Canada).
Miss Yvonne R.
Some peoples homes are saved by the grace of GOD. Some people seek the help of fire prevention experts and so the saving of the Mogo Zoo in southern New South Wales and another man whose extensive property was saved. Stated on the news " our prayers and thoughts are with you". My heart aches for those who have suffered and some have died. Not one mention on the news acknowledging GOD. When GOD provides rain there is no thankfulness to HIM. The many people who came from overseas and other states is wonderful and the generosity of people in donating has been outstanding. All of this falls short of what GOD can do when HE is the ONE people trust and place first. My sadness is many people will be satisfied with the level of the donations and not know how much greater the goodness and grace of GOD is. One joy I am particularly thankful for is the dvd that a lady filmed of her 18 month old son, experiencing rain for the first time. He so enjoyed the rain, wanting to stay standing with his arms outstretched, amazement on his adorable face. Sadly some people are not thankful to GOD for what they have and so they lose what they have - even their life, their loved one. My prayers are for all those who do not know GOD, for all of them to be enlightened to how much they need GOD as the only way, the only truth, the only life in The LORD JESUS Amen One lady said to me - never again will I complain about the rain.
Mark R.
G'day there brothers,
I'd like to hear you address the issue of the popular notion that the fires are a result of Government inaction on "Climate Change". We have marches in the streets of our capital cities screaming "Sack Scomo!!" as if the PM is responsible for the fires due to the lack of response to this problem.
Mark R.
David G.
Great summary, thanks. I have been a volunteer bushfire fighter for 15 years in two periods between 1974 to 2004, including as a remote area specialist, and worked on 4 'campaign' fires (really big ones involving multiple agencies) and worked in Incident Control Centres on three of them. The great variable in Australian bushfires is what is called 'drought factor', a measure of soil moisture. The drier the soil, the lower the drought factor, the higher the fire danger index (all driven by a set of algorithms developed from long research and field calibration). The next variable is, as mentioned, fuel load. Heavy fuel load on the (dry) ground drives the fire. Crowning (fires in the tops of trees) results from ground fires in heavy fuel loads, aided by the high flammability of eucalyptus forests.
That all said, these fires bring to mind the creation mandate: to subdue/rule 'nature' to make habitation for mankind; that which is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:28).
Many detractors regard this imperative as license to despoil and exploit, but neglect that being made in God's image, and before the fall, would entail being motivated above all by love and care for God's creation, and wise consideration for actions taken.

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