PHOTO: Macquarie Marshes Environmental Landholders Association.
It has been a tough year for the Macquarie Marshes with some parts recording no more than 80 millimetres of rain and just 10 millimetres in the last five months, leaving the world-renowned ‘wetland’ bone dry and vulnerable to fire damage.
The Northern Reed-bed located in the Northern Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve caught fire at around 11am on Saturday 26 October.
“There was a silly little dry storm floating around on Saturday,” said Garry Hall, whose property is 5km from the Nature Reserve. “A neighbour saw the lightning strike.”
The Nature Reserve is part of a Ramsar Convention-listed site as a Wetland of international importance and is managed by the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) out of Coonabarabran. A NPWS spokesperson said on Monday afternoon that the fire had burnt about 3000 hectares and was currently contained.
Access for fire fighting using vehicles is limited, so perimeter control and containment clearing can sometimes be supported by aerial units. This time round, with groundwater largely considered too precious for the high volumes required for aerial fire control, the fire was attended by one Rural Fire Service brigade fire unit, three NPSW fire trucks and an NPWS loader.
“Fire operations are ongoing,” the NPWS spokesperson said. “The Macquarie Marshes has a long history of wildfire, with sections of the main reed bed burning in previous years and also being the subject of hazard reduction operations,” the spokesperson said.
“The reed bed is resilient to fire and typically responds well post-fire after rainfall.”
The Macquarie Marshes Environmental Landholders Association, agrees that the Marshes have a long history of fire. They reference a document on social media referring to the 18 major wildfires since 1947 in and adjacent to the nature reserve.
‘Four of the largest fires (1947, 1966, 1994 and 1995) burnt more than 10 square kilometres of reed beds, grassland and riverine woodlands in the northern Macquarie Marshes.’
‘These events were perceived as being rare, because seasonal flooding did not occur in these years due to the onset of drought conditions.
‘However prior to the 1960s and before the effects of major river regulation (e.g., Burrendong Dam, built 1967), fires occurred every one or two years but they were typically short-lived and burnt out within a few days partly due to the sub-surface moisture protecting the roots and the reedbeds.’
MMELA members say that this year the extent of the drought, combined with the impacts of water regulation, has combined to make the reed bed drier.
“Although the reeds have been burnt many times, this time is significant as there is no water that the fire passes over … the majority of the reed-bed will be burnt,” said Mr Hall. “This makes the reed-bed very vulnerable without follow-up flooding.”
Only a small area of about 10 acres of private land adjoining the Nature Reserve has been burnt.