After almost 7 weeks of devastating firestorm conditions, the Grose Valley fire has finally been declared out, but only after destroying over 510,000 hectares of the Blue Mountains. It’s estimated that anywhere between 80 and 90% of the area has been damaged, with large pockets of rainforest completely lost.
Initial damage assessments suggest that it will take decades or even centuries for this area to fully recover, with the rate of recovery dependent on the amount of rainfall the areas receives and, of course, that the conditions which enabled this disaster don’t recur. With climate change now stuck in overdrive, this situation is unlikely. Extreme heat and drought are sadly ‘the new normal’ for this country.
Standing at the lookout at Govett’s Leap, as I’ve so often done when in the mountains, it’s heartbreaking to see just how much damage has been unleashed on this World Heritage area. The firestorm scorched the valley brown to the horizon and in every direction, with the tops of the escarpments now burnt bare and the forest canopy barely concealing untold damage to the rainforest and its fauna below. There’s now an eerie leaden silence hanging over the landscape with the whiff of fire still lingering in the air. Where once gangs of cockatoos screeched below and the whip birds broke the silence with their whip-crack call, there’s now nothing but the wind.
The fires in NSW, and in particular the Blue Mountains, were finally extinguished after the oh-so welcome drought-breaking downpour last week, unleashing upwards of 400mm of rain right across the region in just a few days. As a result, there are already signs of new life, of rejuvenation. The regional dams, only recently as low as 40%, which had resulted in in state-wide water restrictions, are now over 80% full and expected to reach even higher levels as the run off continues from the Great Dividing Range. The towering waterfalls of the Grose Valley, which until recently were run dry, now thunder over the escarpment walls with plumes of water vapour dampening the ferns still clinging to the walls and drenching the forest floor below.
The Eucalypts, whilst burnt on the outside, are now shedding gnarled blackened bark, revealing blood red nutrient-rich skins beneath, resulting in the mass sprouting of shoots and new leaves. With the recent rains this re-growth and rejuvenation will hopefully rapidly transform the landscape into a riot of life within weeks.
Balga Grass plants (Xanthorrhoea) or more locally known as Black Boys have miraculously appeared and spread on the canopy floor. Giant tree ferns are now unfurling bright green spirals of life and even the once shy wildlife is now gingerly emerging. We came across a Lyre Bird fossicking in an open clearing and a friend recently saw a Swamp Wallaby bounding in the scorched undergrowth.
It’s clearly going to take many years for this land to fully recover, but there is hope that these initial signs of life and recovery will take hold and transform what is now largely an alien landscape, into a lush green wilderness, rejuvenated and full of life.