Burning off vs. Bushfires

Submitted: Monday, Dec 09, 2002 at 01:00
ThreadID: 2560 Views:1643 Replies:6 FollowUps:1
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I'm watching the bushfires that are destroying property around Sydney
at the moment - I can only sympathise with the unfortunate folk who
are losing life and livelihood.

On a 10 month 4WD trip around Oz - I feel I have gained some appreciation of the fire risks in Australia and the practical steps taken by locals to manage that risk.

I saw wo ends of the scale: In Northern Queensland and NT, I came across many 'patches' of land that were either burning or had been
burned over the last year or two.

In South Australia - in the more populated parts, there were signs everywhere prohibiting burning off without a license. There were blanket campfire bans for the summer period.

I felt very safe driving through the fires in the North. The fires were small and were mostly grass and a little dry scrub. Sown in the south, I felt that we were surrounded by a timebomb - waiting for one spark which would shoot through the huge amount of fuel that was lying around.

My point? Looking at the TV pictures of the Sydney fires - there seems to be alot of fuel burning and available to burn. Right next to people's houses. Why are they not taking steps to manage the risk and clear small areas periodically instead of sitting on a woodpile. There is much to be learned from the fire management practices of the north (- but probably not the freedom that they enjoy).

What are the laws in NSW to prevent them managing the bush around their property? I know I would want to be out there annually managing the bush on and around my property - burning small patches, clearing a fire zone, working with and for the local flora & fauna. I'm not proposing razing the trees - just sensible management!

I know this is a sensitive one - but would appreciate comments and discussion.

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Reply By: Savvas - Monday, Dec 09, 2002 at 01:00

Monday, Dec 09, 2002 at 01:00
My understanding is that the environmentalists had pressured enough to reduce the amount of backburning in the Blue Mountains and other areas around Sydney.

The result of this before the 1994 bushfires was that dry fuel in the Blue Mountains area had built up to about 25 tonnes per hectare. 4 tonnes per hectare is considered dangerous.

Not sure about laws, but just being sensible and especially after the Xmas Day fires of 2001 should make you thing very seriously about keeping your own property safe.
AnswerID: 9468

Reply By: Truckster - Tuesday, Dec 10, 2002 at 01:00

Tuesday, Dec 10, 2002 at 01:00
I left the RFS in around 1998, but the biggest problem we had was getting permission to do backoffs... There is a lot more planning involved in it.. I was a traininer with the RFS, and when we started showing people how and what is involved, then they sort of WOW... didnt realise it.

In the old days pre ~85 we just did it. out with drip torches and few trucks and into it. And it worked well. Never lost one.

Theres a lot of issues, weather, personel, etc.. and loads risks.. Not once that a fire has gone from a burnoff...

We planned burnoffs, which takes weeks of planning, and then on the weekend to do it it rains like hell.... so theres all the planning gone. And then depending on rain amount, you have to start planning again from measuring the fuel levels thru to organising trucks and crews.

NPWS are another hurdle.. Closing sections of park is never popular with them, as they charge entry for using it, and people dont want to see black trees. But then they dont want burnt houses either.

Its like the grand national really, lots of hurdles. Greenies, endangered Owls and frogs (Serious in the Sutherland Shire, there are places with endangered frogs, where we couldnt burn!)..
AnswerID: 9500

Reply By: Grinner - Tuesday, Dec 10, 2002 at 01:00

Tuesday, Dec 10, 2002 at 01:00
I don't want to sound to un-sympathetic, but the main reason houses are lost in bushfires is because they are built in the bush! If you choose to build and live in a bushland area, you need to to take the precautions to make sure that your property is fire safe. This includes, not having trees and scrub up to your back door, clearing up rubbish around your house, installing a sprinkler system etc.
As Truckster said, burning off is not just a matter of dropping a match in the scrub, it takes hours of planning, needs to consider a whole raft of differing concerns, and is extemely dependant on the weather.
AnswerID: 9510

Follow Up By: Truckster - Tuesday, Dec 10, 2002 at 01:00

Tuesday, Dec 10, 2002 at 01:00
We all like the bush... Im gonna build a house in the bush one day... Love it... Cant get enough of it... Going to the club property this weekend actually!!! Mmmm...

But theres only so much you can do... Unless you own a D9 and doze a 100mtr barrier around your place... Remember a 100ft tree goes a long way when it falls, and if you havent cleared around an extra 40ft + around where it can fall, then when it falls and all the burning branches bounce around into virgin ground, then you can expect problems...

As you say "taking precautions to make sure your property is fire safe"
**SOME** people do. but if 5 houses next door dont, then you may as well not... when their house burns, then yours is on the list.

And we have all watched what use a garden hose is to a fire storm coming up a hill to a house at the top... Zero use. evaporates before it hits the ground!

Pools with proper pumps and good 38mm hose are the go. Expensive but whats your life, and the lives of your family worth?

Theres so much more to this than people think! Go visit your local RFS or CFA etc station and talk to them. They are very receptive to questions and all will come and inspect for you if your unsure. remember you ask today saves them coming out to save your ass tomorrow!

FollowupID: 4864

Reply By: royce - Wednesday, Dec 11, 2002 at 01:00

Wednesday, Dec 11, 2002 at 01:00
We conduct a few burn-offs each year in our local CFA. I worry sometimes whether it's just a handy way to clear a little land for some of the locals. I am sure up north that a little bit of extra area is burnt each year to open up more grazing. Having said that though, reducing fuel is an obvious way to lessen the effect of fire. We have noticed a problem of timing though. A burnt off area can regenerate into an even denser supply of fuel in just a few months. Nothing beats bare earth and readiness. Evacuations seems to be a common practice near Sydney and north of Vic. We tend to recommend staying with your house. If you leave then leave way before fire is near. Hmmm I think I'll go out a rake a few leaves and check the gutters. Cheers Royce
AnswerID: 9575

Reply By: Steve L - Thursday, Dec 12, 2002 at 01:00

Thursday, Dec 12, 2002 at 01:00
The problem with burning off in the area north of Sydney where the fires have been (and where I live) is that the Berowra Creek Valley is inaccessible for doing preventative burning off.

I agree that those of us who decide to live in these areas need to take the correct precautions, however I draw the line at the sh*ts who light these fires deliberately!! As the fire was waning in Berowra, some F*wit decided at 10pm on Sunday night that there wasn't enough excitement and lit a new fire 100m from my house overlooking Galston Gorge (Berowra Creek Valley). Luckily a lady across the road noticed the flames and the firies and police were over in a flash and extinguished it. Given the terrain in the area it would have been devastating if it had taken hold.

The firies and SES do a fantastic job - keep it up.
AnswerID: 9597

Reply By: Beddo - Thursday, Dec 12, 2002 at 01:00

Thursday, Dec 12, 2002 at 01:00
This year we have native plants that are dying because of the drought - Eucalypts etc along the ridges of the Hawkesbury Sandstone areas. I have been at the fires since 29th Sept and only seen the wife and kids for about 2 weeks on and off during that time. There is heaps of paper work required in the planning for hazard reductions etc councils, NPWS and State Forests all do them as set out the bushfire management plans that are prepared for the areas - these documents state when the hazard reductions are to be done etc - wet weather, RFS largely only available on weekends(they are volunteers - WELL DONE ALL), or the temps too high, wind is up etc. But this year we are seeing the fires go straight through hazard reductions of 6 months ago - hazard reductions are low intensity burns that burns the lower fuels out - during the wildfires the fire carried straight thru the shrub layer and canopy. This year I saw the fire burn down hill slowly in the morning then around lunch as the temp increased and humidity dropped the fire came racing uphill thru the upper layers. When you get the right conditions you cannot stop it without no vegetation at all. Where they build houses - councils will have to change things and materials that people use will have to be flame resistant. Depending on the scrub the regrowth after hazard reductions can in some cases be higher (increased suspended fuels). Thanks again to all the volunteers out there - we couldn't do it without you.
PS. Even with the rain they are still not out - aerial surveys have hot spots along fire edges just north of Sydney and the Singelton areas - RAFT (Remote Area Fire Teams) are being winched in by helicopter (largely NPWS personnel) to target these with chainsaws and Rackhoes.
AnswerID: 9626

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