“Gamba is going to kill someone”: Volunteer firefighters call for action on dangerous weed
In the lead up to the NT budget, volunteer fire fighters are calling for urgent action to curb the spread of gamba grass, a dangerous weed that is fueling intense wildfires.
Captain David McLachlan of Lambells Lagoon Volunteer Fire Brigade has a simple, stark message for the public and policy makers: “Gamba is going to kill someone. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”
The spread of gamba has transformed frontline firefighting conditions in the Top End, posing a serious threat to the safety of volunteer firefighters and local residents.
“Back in the day we didn’t bother with aeroplanes, very rarely helicopters. And we used to get around in stubby shorts and T-shirts. These days nobody gets out of the vehicle, everyone is kitted up to the max, and we will have two to three planes managing the fire, as well as a helicopter. Instead of four to five units we have 20 on the line,” said Mr McLachlan.
Captain Roy Hicks of Marrakai Volunteer Fire Brigade has seen
firsthand the impact that gamba grass has had on fuel loads and fire intensity.
“We don’t have the bigger trees like the southern states, but gamba grass once it gets going it flares. It is a lot more intense and hotter than native grass fires,” Mr Hicks said. “If you’ve seen a gamba grass fire coming at you, you respect it with all you can.”
Mr McLachlan says landholders need to take action now to reduce
gamba grass when it is still manageable.
“Go out and spray it yourself when it’s two metres high, not four. Gamba grass is not to be within 15 metres of the perimeter of a property. I would like to see people being compliant with that,” Mr McLachlan said.
Mitch Hart from the Pew Charitable Trusts said the Northern
Territory Government needs to invest more in early intervention methods in the
May budget to reduce the risk to fire fighters and communities.
“Let’s not wait until the Dry when Territory fire crews are fighting these intense fires before we focus on this issue. Now is the time for landholders and policy makers to take action to reduce fire risk next season.”
“We’re calling on the Gunner Government to commit funding in this
year’s budget to stop the spread of gamba grass and protect communities facing
these dangerous gamba fueled fires,” Mr Hart said.
Gamba Grass Roots, a community campaign supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Environment Centre Northern Territory is calling on the NT Government to commit the resources needed to:
- Extend the Gamba Action Program to better support landholders.
- Control the spread of gamba on public lands, including national parks.
- Increase outreach and compliance efforts by weed control and fire safety officers.
- Support collaborative action by key agencies and stakeholders, including Weeds Branch, Bushfires NT and Indigenous Rangers.