Prescribed burns essential for fire safety

Prescribed burns essential for fire safety

15 October 2008

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Australia — The weather is warming up and while most people enjoy relaxing in the sun, the crew at the Department of Environment and Conservation are preparing for what is often the busiest time of year by carrying out prescribed burns throughout the Blackwood region.

While there has been controversy surrounding prescribed burning in the past, it is clear that the program implemented by DEC has greatly benefited the whole of WA.

Phil Cheney of CSIRO is one of Australia’s leading bushfire experts. He enjoys international acclaim for his research on environmental management and bushfire studies, and their impact on urban lifestyle, but even he has claimed, “fire management in the DEC provides a benchmark for the rest of the world.”

This is largely due to the level of preventative action taken to avoid what are known as ‘superfires’ which have raged across the eastern states of Australia in recent years, as well as many other countries.

By burning select areas of bush, based on a complex system of analysis and dating, the risk of large fires occurring throughout the summer season can be significantly reduced.

Tony Mennen, fire operations officer for DEC, said that each prescribed burn was planned in advance depending on how long it had been since the designated area and surrounding area was last burnt, weather conditions, and other scientific data.

Prescribed burns use low-intensity fire to remove dry, susceptible fuels. The fires generally remain at ground-level and leave the tops of trees and bushes green creating a firewall for possible firebreaks in older, unburnt areas.

This sort of low-to-moderate fire intensity also allows the forest to recover far easier than if a wild bushfire was allowed to pass through, which could have devastating effects.

Regular burning of Australian bushland has been shown to promote rejuvenation and healthy growth of vegetation, also supporting the diverse range of fauna.

Prescribed burns are coordinated in a patch-work fashion, so that there is a mosaic of old and newly burnt areas, spanning from very recent up to 30 years or more since the last burn.

If a fire was to start in one of the older areas, it would peter out once it reached a region that had been burnt in the last six months to five years, as there was no fuel in those areas.

It is a primary objective to reduce fire risk this season, given the conditions for potential breakouts and, as Mr Mennen said, a small amount of smoke during spring time was a small price to pay for avoiding wild bushfires and maintaining healthy forest and coastal vegetation.

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