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Mar 10, 2009

Fuel reduction burns made no difference on Black Saturday

Fuel reduction burns do have their place but on "Black Saturday" they made no difference to the outcome, writes Simon Birrell.

I have been reading Crikey‘s stories on control burns with a lot of interest.

On Sunday the 1st of March I went to State forest near Muchison Road in the Flowerdale area in Victoria. This forest area was incinerated by the Kilmore fire on the 7th of February. I took photos of a 30 hectare area that was controlled burned on 10th of April 2008.

This recent fuel reduction burn made no difference what so ever. In fact all the control burns that were done in 2008 and then run over by the 7th of February 2009 fire will show the same thing, but I have not been able to get to the other areas as access is still restricted.

The stories published in The Australian by David Packham and others are going to be shown as nothing more than a nasty public relations campaign in the medium to long term. I recently had an opinion piece published in the Geelong Advertiser that dealt with the rubbish being said about the Otways fire suppression strategies.

The logic for the Otways applies to the areas burnt in the 7 February fires.

I have attached a map of where the control burn was conducted on 10 April 2008. (click to enlarge)

The photos below show the coppice that grew back after the April 2008 control burn. The 7 February fire still raced though this area. Houses were destroyed nearby.

The below photo shows a track that was the boundary between the area that was fuel reduction burnt (left) and an area that was not fuel control burnt (right). You can see the coppice on the trees to the left. (click to enlarge)

Fuel reduction burns do have their place but on “Black Saturday” they made no difference to the outcome. To state that conservation minded people somehow contributed to the fires on Saturday the 7th of February is outrageous given the facts that are going to be exposed now the smoke is clearing.

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12 comments

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12 thoughts on “Fuel reduction burns made no difference on Black Saturday

  1. Ben Aveling

    Will, have a look at http://www.flickr.com/photos/leileiky/3263314220/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/leileiky/3263314142/

    Utter devastation, but plenty of trees survived intact even as the buildings between them were lost.

    Fire is complicated stuff – everyone agrees that backburning helps in the short term, but in the medium to long term, no-one really knows. It may even be that overburning makes fires worse by favouring fire-loving species.

    More to the point, these areas were being backburned. Maybe not enough, maybe too much. But unless you plan to burn everything to the ground and somehow stop it growing back, backburning isn’t going to stop fires.

    In theory, if you never burn, you’ll get bigger fires, because the amount of litter builds up. But the difference between burning every so often and burning frequently isn’t as large as you might think, because you get diminishing returns from backburning.

  2. paul

    Great point will, look at the picture, it does appear that the fire intensity has been reduced. Now click on the picture and look at the enlarged picture to see just as many leaves on the trees on each side of the track.
    For a real comparison lets look at the young post clear fell logged bush that burned in comparison to the wetter un disturbed older forest. More water in the forest equals a slower cooler fire even in extreme weather, that is why the fire brigade use water on fire.

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