Why is Fire Necessary?
How Does Fire Management Differ Between Rural and Urban Areas?
The threat of fire increases in cities due to the high density of people and infrastructure. Frequent burning is undertaken in urban areas to reduce fuel load and the risk to lives and property. Greater emphasis is placed on prevention measures such as education and awareness campaigns, clearing, building standards and firebreaks/ set back zones.
Fire management and suppression is further complicated in urban areas by issues related to access and resource restrictions. Bush areas in cities experience problems with arson and illegal dumping, requiring additional monitoring and maintenance costs. Careful planning of the surrounding environment is required as, for example, power lines can be a fire risk and short-term fixes such as clearing and paving, interfere with hydrology. Ongoing management of urban bush areas is critical for managing risk. An inquiry into the causes of bushfires across Australia has been conducted, addressing fire prevention, reduction and management techniques.
Who is Involved in Managing Fire?
Scientists play an important role in land management through applying knowledge from fire behaviour research. A greater understanding of how fire responds under different conditions has helped in the development of fire modeling and warning systems. These data analysis tools help predict fire spread and notify bushfire suppression systems, which help reduce risk and damage to lives and property.
Bushfire science is communicated to government departments to help inform policy and planning. This involves the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES), the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) Parks and Wildlife Service and Local Governments and their Bush Fire Brigades. Vegetation management plans are developed by State departments for conservation areas, whereas Local Governments are responsible for public areas within their district. These plans include strategies to manage fuel loads and may include prescribed burning, fire breaks, slashing, mulching or other methods. Where practical these departments will work alongside each other to conduct controlled burning.
Private landowners also have a responsibility to reduce the fuel loads on their property in order to minimize the intensity and spread of future bushfires. To find out how to reduce risk to you and protect your home visit the private home owners link below in the fire management resources.
What Factors Influence the Chosen Fire Regime?
The risk of fire cannot be completely eliminated, however, steps can be taken to reduce the intensity and potential for spread. The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attraction has published information on the prescribed burning process, which includes how factors such as weather and specific site conditions influence burns. For example, burning takes place in spring and autumn when conditions are cooler, vegetation and fuel moisture levels are higher and weather conditions are more stable.
Public perception can also influence the level of burning. Treatment acceptance depends on the values held by an individual and includes the perceived level of risk (fire escape/smoke), understanding of the ecological benefits/ familiarity with techniques and trust in the source of information and those carrying out the prescribed burning (1).
What are the Possible Impacts of Fire on Fauna and Flora?
The frequency, intensity and duration that fire occurs can have implications for biodiversity. For example, short intervals between burning have an impact on species survival as plants are killed before being able to mature and seed1. An absence of well-developed and suitable habitat will impact the ability of fauna to access adequate resources for reproduction and survival, leading to a decrease in population2.
1.PausasJG, Keeley, JE. Evolutionary ecology of resproutingand seedling in fire-prone ecosystems. New PhytologistTrust, 204 (1). 2014. Doi: 10.1111/nph.12921. Available from: Wiley. https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/nph.12921
2.Shaffer KE, HedwallSJ, LaudenslayerWF. Chapter 9: Fire and animal interactions. In Fire in California’s Ecosystems, University of California Press, pp125. 2018. Available from: https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520286832/fire-in-californias-ecosystems
How can we Balance Risk Management and Biodiversity?
More investment into fire ecology research is needed to achieve a better understanding of the impacts of fire on ecological processes and biodiversity and how to integrate urban spaces into the natural landscape more harmoniously. A key feature of this change would require an interactive program between relevant agencies and the public to illustrate the importance of fire in the Australian landscape. Priorities for action have been outlined in Australian’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010- 2030.Partnerships evolving from this process may create more trust and acceptance of prescribed burning.
A case study for achieving a balance between safety and biodiversity on private property has been demonstrated in the Fire and Biodiversity Landholder Information Kit by the Cape to Capes Catchment Group. While it is based in the southwest, the information can be used to assist landholders in urban areas as it advocates the use of alternative fuel management options such as mechanical thinning, setbacks, building design and native gardens. These measures compliment existing strategies and may be particularly useful in communities sensitive to smoke or those in areas where fire may be less practical.
WHO MANAGES FIRE IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA?
Private Land Owners
Private landowners are are responsible for protecting their property against fire by implementing prevention/mitigation strategies that align with the local planning controls. Information has been provided below to help in the prevention and mitigation of fire on private properties.
The Homeowners Bushfire Survival Manual and Guidesprovides information on preventing and preparing for fires on private property, specifically considerations for the building site and design of the home and surroundings. Similarly, the Building for Better Protection Guidelines provide advice on retrofitting or building homes to improve performance under bushfire attack.
Understanding bushfire warning systems is important in knowing how and when to act during a fire. The Bushfire Preparation Toolkitoutlines these tools and provides a template for a bushfire plan. Further publications on shelter, travel and other risks during a bushfire can be found on the DFES website under Fire Chat Publications.
Members of the community can establish groups that contribute to the reduction of bushfire risk through organized activities relating to fuel and bushland management.
Community members interested in forming an action group may visit Bushfire Ready , which is a program aimed at encouraging local residents to work together in preparing and protecting their families and properties against bushfires. A Reportby the Victoria government examines the benefits of creating a “learning network”, focusing on the benefits of learning through communication between the community and fire organisations.
The role of local government in bushfire risk management planning in Western Australia involves several obligations under the State Hazard Plan for fire. Each local government must define what bushfire prone areas are and ensure land use planning and construction in these zones comply with the appropriate standards. The council must develop Bushfire Risk Management Plan’s (BRM Plans) for high risk areas. The plans may include fuel reduction measures such as prescribed burning undertaken by the volunteer fire brigade. Bushfire recovery is the responsibility of each local government.
These resources below have been prepared to help local councils develop BRM Plans and to manage fuel loads and other fire risks within their local government areas:
- BRM Plans developed by local councils must align with the Guidelines for Preparing a Bushfire Risk Management Plan, which have been approved by the Office of Bushfire Risk Management and meet the AS/NZS ISO 31000:2009 Standards.
- Planning for Bushfire Protection Guidelinesprepared by the WA Planning Commission and the Fire and Emergency Services Authority to outline the various considerations that need to be addressed at each stage of planning and development to minimize the to life and property from fire.
- Bushfire & Natural Hazards CRC provides resources for local councils on fuel reduction, prescribed burning , risk management and response.
- Bushfire Prone Planning is a consultant that commonly works with local governments to develop bushfire management plans for at risk sites.
Examples of Fire Management Plans that cover the entire local government area:
Examples of Fire Management Plans for specific sites:
The role of the WA State government is to assist local governments and other agencies in fire prevention, preparedness and response strategies. Under the State Hazard Plan for fire the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) have a responsibility to refer develop proposals to the Western Australian Planning Commission (WAPC) as well as providing input into these standards. DFES also decide seasonal fire burning times and have the ability to declare total fire bans. The role of Parks and Wildlife Services is to develop annual burn programs involving the application of prescribed burns during these periods. Both departments aid local governments in the Bushfire Risk Management Plan process.
The following resources have been provided to help develop a framework for risk management planning and communication:
- Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) best practice principles for creating a holistic and consistent approach to prescribed burning
- Community risk reduction tools for fire agency leaders