Location not size: fuel reduction burns most effective within 1km of houses

REVIEW: The study found smaller target hazard reduction burns close to town are more effective than burning big areas of bushland. Photo: Adam McLean
REVIEW: The study found smaller target hazard reduction burns close to town are more effective than burning big areas of bushland. Photo: Adam McLean

Location is far more important that size when it comes to fuel reduction burns, a new study by the Bushfire Recovery Project has found.

The expert review of 72 peer-reviewed scientific papers about bushfires and infrastructure loss found fuel reduction burning was most effective at reducing housing loss when done within one kilometre of the property.

The Bushfire Recovery Project is a joint initiative between Griffith University and the Australian National University to inform the public about what the peer-reviewed science says about bushfires.

The latest review also found the ability of hazard reduction burns to reduce property loss only lasted for five years.

Griffith University professor Brendan Mackey said the evidence showed rather than burning hectares of bushland, targeted fuel reduction burns of relatively small areas was much more effective.

"Targeted burning within one kilometre of houses and towns can help to protect them from bushfire, but it must be done every three years [to be most effective]," Prof Mackey said.

However, the effectiveness of fuel reduction burns reduces greatly on extreme fire danger days, which is when most houses are lost

The Bureau of Meteorology found Australia is experiencing ten times the number of extreme fire danger than it was several decades ago - 143 in 2010s versus 14 in the 1960s.

"The evidence shows us fuel reduction burning was once much more effective than it now is, because we faced far less extreme fire weather 50 years ago," Prof Mackey said.

"There has been an irreversible change in fire weather conditions - put simply, the game has changed."

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ANU bushfire and landscape expert professor David Lindenmayer said the climate was now completely different to what it was in the 1970s.

"The effectiveness of fuel reduction burning is hugely reduced on these very hot days," Prof Lindenmayer said.

"The peer-reviewed evidence is that burning forest miles from houses doesn't protect those houses.

"Multiple strategies are required to reduce the risk of infrastructure loss due to bushfire. Risk of losing houses and infrastructure to bushfire in Australia can be reduced, but not eliminated."

A previous review by the Bushfire Recovery Project the dryness of fuel loads, rather than its size, was more important when it came to the behaviour of fires.

The recent bushfire royal commission also found reducing fuel loads would help limit the impacts of a normal fires, but warned in extreme conditions, the size of the fuel load made little difference.

This story Location not size: fuel burns most effective within 1km of houses first appeared on Farm Online.