Adverse weather restricts winter burn-offs

27th November 2019
A very good article in today's Newcastle Herald about hazard reduction burning and the recent bushfires. In an age where everyone wants to blame someone

Picture by Max Mason-Hubers, Newcastle Herald

A very good article in today's Newcastle Herald about hazard reduction burning and the recent bushfires.

In an age where everyone wants to blame someone when things get tough - be it the 'greenies', the government, the RFS - this lays out some of the facts around hazard reduction burns.

I realise that not everyone subscribes to the Herald and may not be able to read the article, but in it NSW RFS Inspector Ben Shepherd says the RFS was only able to complete five out of 18 planned burns over winter "due to adverse weather conditions and the early onset of fires".

By Phoebe Moloney, Newcastle Herald, November 27 2019

While the NSW Government says it has met its overall target for hazard reduction burns in the state over the past four years, NSW RFS Inspector Ben Shepherd said the smaller window to complete burns this year emphasised the need for services and individuals to enact all precautionary strategies possible before future blazes.

The RFS is the coordinating authority for hazard reduction burns, assisting National Parks and Wildlife Services, councils, forestry and landholders.

Mr Shepherd said at least five of 18 planned large-scale burns went ahead in the lower hunter this winter.

"There was rain and problems with adverse weather, the smoke would have just hung around for too long. And then the region started seeing fires from August 8," Inspector Shepherd said.

"Because we need to prioritise resources [for fires], it limits opportunities to do further burning. Because of the the dry, warm and windy weather I don't think we will see more hazard reduction burning in the region even until autumn."

He said drought had been a leading factor in the devastation of the recent fires.

"We've seen over 1.7 million hectares burnt already this fire season in the state, mostly in the state's north-east, compared to 286,000 hectares last fire season," he said. "Because of the dryness of the fuels, where there's fuel and drought that's where there is the highest amount of fire activity.

"We highlighted and conducted a very strong awareness campaign that the risk is very much in the forested ranges from the Victorian border to the Queensland border, which is concerning because the greatest population density also exists in those areas."

Mr Shepherd said commentary suggesting the state wouldn't have seen the spate of fires if more hazard reduction had been performed was incorrect.

"You can't just hazard reduction burn all things fire," he said. "Burns themselves don't stop fires, they reduce the intensity. We've seen the recent fires burning through areas where we performed hazard reduction as little as two years ago."

The importance of using a range of precautionary measures was increasing as the fire season seemed to be lengthening, he said, now "stretching from August through to April and even May".

"As we start to see changing of the season and a little bit of changing in the climate, we could see further reduced windows to conduct hazard reduction and that's why it's going to come down to individuals understanding their personal risk.

"There needs to be a variety of strategies used, mechanical clearing, asset protection zones and adherence to building requirements in bushfire-prone land," he said. "Then there's those most basic elements of residents clearing out their gutters, trimming back branches and mowing lawns.

"More than 90 per cent of homes burnt in fires are lost to ember attacks, which is largely due to homes being ill prepared - embers igniting in materials ready to burn."

Dr Iftekhar Ahmed, the program convener of the University of Newcastle's master of disaster resilience and sustainable development, said governments needed longer term plans to respond to the risk of unpredictable fire seasons.

He described the magnitude and timing of the recent fires as "very unusual" and said research had made the link between climate change and erratic weather conditions "quite clear".

Website: Read original story here

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