A well-watered mulberry tree has been credited with averting the danger of destructive wildfires from destroying Brett Hawkins’ home during 2020’s unprecedented fire season in Australia. When massive fires raged through the bush through the summer, many homes were completely engulfed. However, Hawkins attested that when he returned to his home after evacuating,
‘I could see straight away the house was intact — the roof was intact, but everything else around it was burnt, with the exception of the mulberry tree.’ He described the stark scene greeting him upon arriving back home, ‘It was apocalyptic,’ Mr. Hawkins said. ‘There was not a tree left, ash on the ground and smouldering embers everywhere.’ But among the blackened trees, Mr. Hawkins found his mudbrick house and mulberry tree in full leaf [Aubrey 2020].
In the season’s drought, he had been rationing water, but sparing some to keep his tree hydrated and healthy, which may have been a contributing factor in its resistance. According to the article, “Mr. Hawkins believed that by heavily watering the tree, combined with luck regarding which direction the fires came, the full heat of the bushfires was shifted.” [Aubrey 2020]
Another important feature is the mulberry’s lack of dried leaves and brush at its base that might pose a danger of igniting. Other species, like eucalyptus, with oily leaves that could dry out, or pine trees whose long branches catch dry leaves, are less ideal.
A tree expert from the Fenner School of Environment at the Australian National University analyzed some of the possible factors leading to the survival of this mulberry tree and what it might teach those wishing to fortify the fire resilience of their homes and properties. “While there does not seem to be a clear answer on what to plant to ‘fire-proof’ your house, Professor Brack said a well-watered tree, with a clear trunk and no loose, dry leaves or branches is a good start” [Aubrey 2020].
Aubrey, Kate, 2020, Well-watered mulberry tree credited with saving home on NSW South Coast from summer bushfires, ABC News, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-26/mulberry-tree-saves-home-from-bushfire/12813892.