The rapid spread of Gamba grass across the Territory is "going to kill someone", a firefighter group has claimed.
Despite recognition Gamba is one of the NT's worst weeds, volunteer firefighters say the NT Government needs to do more.
In the lead up to the May NT Budget, volunteer fire fighters are calling for urgent action to curb the spread of gamba grass, a dangerous weed they say is fueling intense wildfires.
Captain David McLachlan of Lambell's 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.
The NT Government estimates Gamba currently affects up to 15,000 square kilometres of the NT, but has the potential to affect 380,000 square kilometres.
Most infestations are north of Katherine.
Gamba grass is originally from Africa and was introduced to the NT as a pasture species in the 1930s. Research and trials resulted in widespread plantings in pastoral and agricultural areas of the Top End.
"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," Mr McLachlan said.
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.
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.
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