Australia– Sydney is facing the early onset of the bushfire season with a heavy build-up of fuel still lying in the forests around the city, despite an increase in hazard reduction burning this year.
”It’s now too late to do serious burning to reduce the fuel load ahead of this bushfire season in NSW,” said Sydney University’s Professor Mark Adams, a program leader at the CSIRO’s Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre. ”You need heavy burning to get rid of the heavy fuel.”
Figures from the NSW Rural Fire Service show there has been an 18 per cent increase in hazard reduction burns compared to last year, following February’s Black Saturday fires in Victoria.
Hazard reduction burns were completed at 3375 locations around the state, compared to 2936 the year before.
NSW still burns fewer hectares of bushland than some other states, but that has nothing to do with environmental objections, the Rural Fire Service assistant commissioner, Rob Rogers, said.
”We have a good work relationship with the environment movement,” he said. ”The fact is that our burning activities are much more targeted to protect property.
”We no longer measure the amount we burn in hectares because it is not the best measure of hazard reduction. You can burn 100 hectares 100 kilometres from the nearest property or you can burn one hectare near to the property and get a better result in terms of safety.”
Each district, state forest and national park in NSW has a separate fire plan, updated since last season to take account of any new conditions, according to the fire service’s annual reports.
Professor Adams said more burning should have been done, but there had still been major efforts to study bushfires this year and prepare for the worst.
”The 2009 fire represented something new, in that the weather statistics were off the chart. But we have good meteorology information for only the last 200 years – it is difficult to know anything with certainty before that,” he said.
”Fires burnt greater areas [than Black Saturday] in 2003, 2006, 2007. If you put it in a historical context the evidence is more that we have some larger fires rather than more fires.”
The effectiveness of large-scale hazard reduction burning is questioned by another researcher, Scott Mooney, of the University of NSW.
Dr Mooney and his team have been examining ancient charcoal deposits in the Sydney Basin to study past fire regimes and their effect on the landscape. By drilling bore holes in old swamp sediment in the Blue Mountains and the Royal National Park, they are able to count the tiny flecks of old charcoal stored in layers there, and estimate the size and frequency of past bushfires.
The findings suggest that Aboriginal fire management practices did not include massive burning, as is sometimes thought. This may mean that large scale hazard reduction burns were not employed by them to control wildfires.
– The National Parks and Wildlife Service said severe weather conditions have caused the closure of the Blue Mountains National Park and the Wollemi National Park, although road access would remain open. Walking tracks, but not beaches and picnic areas, in Sydney and Central Coast parks and reserves would also be closed. The Sydney Harbour National Park tracks would be open.