Mon, 26 Oct 2020

CANBERRA, Sept. 19 (Xinhua) -- As spring comes to Australian capital Canberra, trees are blossoming and new leaves are growing out. But on the mountains of the Namadgi National Park, charred trunks are still visible.

The Orroral Valley fire, which was ignited by a military helicopter on Jan. 27 in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), destroyed 80 percent of the Namadgi National Park.

"It's very evident the scars of the summer of 2020 will be evident on the landscape for many many years to come," said Brett McNamara, manager of Namadgi National Park which is about 40 minutes' drive from the city center of Canberra.

Covering more than 106,000 hectares, or more than 45 percent of the ACT, the park partially reopened about half a year after the fire. But McNamara said they saw parts of the park they had never seen before.

"The granite rocks are now exposed," he told Xinhua. "It's almost like the bare bones of the mountain being laid. The canopy in most of the park has been removed. The vegetation has been completely incinerated."

The summer of 2020 saw devastating bushfires raging across Australia, which killed more than 30 people. According to local media, about 18.6 million hectares of land have been burned.

McNamara said they also saw huge amount of sedimentation moving off the mountains. "It's changing environment out there," he said.

Although he noted that fire has crafted and molded the landscape for centuries, McNamara said what's concerning was frequency and intensity of the fires.

"It was incredibly dry prior to the fire starting in January this year," he recalled. "The Murrumbidgee River, which is a river that flows through the park, stopped flowing. In the 30 years that I've been out here in the park I've never seen that river stopped flowing. We had a situation here whereby the canopy of the trees were dying."

He said that mega fires are seen not only here in Australia, but also elsewhere in the world, and now in California of the United States driven by climate change.

"These fires we have now seen are unprecedented in terms of the impact they're having upon the environment," he said. "And if we keep having fires on a regular basis ... that will fundamentally change the ecosystem."

One example was the water system. McNamara said that one of the reasons the park was set aside was for water catchment. "Eighty percent of Canberra and Queanbeyan water comes out of these mountains. The impact of fire on that catchment overtime may will compromise the water system."

Apart from the cost of ecosystem, the fire also inflicted infrastructure costs on the park, as a lot of walking tracks are to be rebuilt.

Now that only about a quarter of the park reopened, McNamara hoped that the visitors could be patient. "These sort of recovery programs can't happen overnight."

Visitor Denis Graham was excited at the reopening.

"I've been to Namadgi National Park quite a few times before," he said. "It's a beautiful part of the bushland very close to Canberra (city center) ... There are many kangaroos here and many wombats and koalas as well."

Graham liked taking photos of nature and saw Namadgi, away from city with very dark sky at night, a good place to see stars.

"It's a very good place for astrophotography, which is what I very much like to do," he said. "There have been some good comets coming over the last six months. And unfortunately, it had been closed so we weren't granted access."

As it is getting warmer in the Southern Hemisphere, McNamara said while grass fire potential impacting upon Canberra is certainly real, they might not see the same damaging fires this summer. "We don't have the deficit of moisture that we had leading up to last summer. There has also been a significant reduction in the available fuels out there."

While Xinhua reporters drove through the park, a group of kangaroos hopped across the road and disappeared in the bush.

Graham said he hoped that they would not see the tragedy again in Namadgi. "There are going to be more and more people coming down here to enjoy the beauty of the nature and animals here," he said.

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