Big bush fires roared through the outback just outside Broome yesterday afternoon. You could see them raging from our hotel parking lot and again during our nightly sunset walk on Cable Beach.
No one seemed to be very concerned with the approaching flames. The camel caravan made its nightly circuit of the beach without skipping a beat. Hundreds of Aussies frolicked in the water without giving a second thought to the inferno raging right on the other side of the dunes.
We assume that’s because bush fires are sooooo common out here. A thunder storm can sweep across the outback and lightning strikes can spark dozens of them all across the horizon. In addition to all the naturally-occurring fires, may others are intentionally started by aborigines.
Yes, I did, in fact, say that the aborigines start fires intentionally. But no one considers them to be arsonists. They’re just an ancient people following their traditional beliefs.
The Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation & Attractions says:
Before Aboriginal people populated the Australian continent some 40,000 to 60,000 years ago, the major cause of fires would have been lightning. Aboriginal people learnt to harness the naturally recurring fire caused by lightning and other sources to their advantage, which resulted in skilful burning of landscapes for many different purposes.
Fire was used for:
• make access easier through thick and prickly vegetation. •. maintain a pattern of vegetation to encourage new growth and attract game for hunting • encourage the development of useful food plants, for cooking, warmth, signalling and spiritual reasons.
Unless one of these bush fires threatens structures, they’re generally allowed to burn themselves out. This part of the country just doesn’t have enough people nor enough water to put up a real defense.
We’ve actually driven through one bush fire whose flames came right up to the edge of the main highway across the Kimberley.
It was scary and destructive, but somehow fascinating and beautiful at the same time.