Prescribed burning can reduce fire severity for decades

Prescribed burning can reduce fire severity for decades

22 February 2010

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Australia —  A panel of bushfire ecologists has told the Royal Commission into Black Saturday prescribed burning can help reduce the severity of bushfires for as long as two decades.

The seven-member panel, made up of mainly bushfire ecologists has told the Royal Commission prescribed burning will not prevent fires but it certainly reduces their speed and intensity.

Former CSIRO fire investigator Phil Cheney said a good prescribed burn will stop a bushfire for one to two years afterwards.

After three years the burn will still have a “profound effect” in reducing the rate of spread.

He said a planned burn could reduce embers and flame height for much longer, possibly as long as 20 years.

Jerry Williams, who has spent a lifetime working in the United States forests service, agreed prescribed burning had an effect even in extreme conditions.

No need to wait

Last week the secretary of the Department of Sustainability (DSE) told the commission he was not willing to support a 4 to 6 per cent increase in prescribed burning, partly because the science was still developing.

But the panel told the commission there is no reason to wait, and between 5 and 10 per cent of Victoria’s forests should be burnt annually to drive down the risk of bushfire.

Forest ecologist Mark Adams said there was enough evidence to proceed with confidence that prescribed burning in Victoria’s foothill forests would cause little damage.

But others on the panel emphasised the need to accompany an increase in burning with a commitment to monitor the ecological effects.

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