WA Fire Escape

Parliament house flag post

WA Fire Escape

Posted 2/12/2011 by Bill McCormick

Recently, a fuel reduction burn escaped from a national park and destroyed more than 30 homes in the Margaret River region in south-west Western Australia. This serves as a reminder of the risks in using low intensity burns of forest and bushland to reduce the fuel load so that future wildfires may be controlled.
The burn was started at a time of favourable weather but with forecasts of high temperatures and winds for a couple of days later. It was reported that the authorities made the decision to proceed with the burn because the area would pose a greater fire risk unless the fuel reduction burning program could be finished beforehand. They indicated that there was a backlog of forested areas with high fuel build-up and ‘once the fuels start getting old, like they are, and you have an escape, the consequences are much more significant.’

While all details surrounding the incident are not yet known, it highlights the balancing act as to the levels of fuel reduction burning that are needed to reduce the wildfire risk. The 2002 Library paper Bushfires: Is Fuel Reduction Burning the Answer?, which discusses the issues, is about to be updated with the latest research findings on this contentious matter.

A West Australian editorial made the following comments about the fire. “No one should question the need for prescribed burns as a way of preventing catastrophes when fires get out of control in the height of summer. But the questions in this instance revolve around how the agency manages those burns and how it responds to changing conditions.”

Unlike in the eastern states, where autumn burns are normally carried out, fuel reduction burns in south-west WA are normally carried out in the spring. Therefore a wet winter and spring can restrict the numbers of days with opportunities to safely carry out burns before the weather warms up and dries out too much for burns to be contained.

The Western Australia Department of Environment and Conservation has historically carried out fuel reduction burns across six to eight per cent of forested land in south-western WA compared with less than two percent in other States in the south-eastern Australia. A submission to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission said that “in order to restrict the extent of wildfires from impacting less than one percent of the landscape each year, the proportion of the landscape that needs to be fuel reduced is between eight to ten per cent per year.” The Royal Commission recommended a program of fuel reduction burning in Victoria should be based on an annual rolling target of five per cent minimum of public land.

The amount of fuel reduction burning in the region has been significantly reduced due to low rainfall over the past ten years but it has been reported there have been other constraints due to “longer summers and complaints about smoke from townsfolk and wine growers who said it tainted their grapes”.

Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett is expected to announce an inquiry into the fire, in which details of the fuel reduction burn and the reasons for its escape from containment lines should become clear.

Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.
Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice




immigration refugees elections taxation asylum Parliament criminal law election results Australian Bureau of Statistics social security disability citizenship Indigenous Australians political parties United Kingdom UK Parliament Census statistics banking early childhood education Middle East Australian foreign policy OECD Australian Electoral Commission voting mental health Employment military history by-election election timetable China; Economic policy; Southeast Asia; Africa housing Speaker; House of Representatives; Parliament Productivity Defence income management asylum seekers High Court; Indigenous; Indigenous Australians; Native Title Senate ACT Indigenous education Norfolk Island External Territories leadership aid Papua New Guinea emissions reduction fund; climate change child care funding Electoral reform politics refugees immigration asylum Canada procurement Australian Public Service firearms Indigenous health constitution High Court e-voting internet voting nsw state elections 44th Parliament women 2015 International Women's Day public policy ABS Population Age Pension Death penalty capital punishment execution Bali nine Bali bombings Trade skilled migration Private health insurance Medicare Financial sector EU national security fuel China soft power education violence against women domestic violence Fiji India Disability Support Pension disability employment welfare reform Tasmania Antarctica China Diplomacy Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency World Anti-Doping Agency Sport ASADA Federal Court WADA ADRV by-elections state and territories terrorism terrorist groups Bills corruption anti-corruption integrity fraud bribery transparency corporate ownership whistleblower G20 economic reform science innovation research and development transport standards Afghanistan Australian Defence Force NATO United States social media Members of Parliament Scottish referendum Middle East; national security; terrorism higher education Higher Education Loan Program HECS welfare policy pensions social services welfare ASIO Law Enforcement Australian Federal Police Australian Secret Intelligence Service intelligence community Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013 sexual abuse online grooming sexual assault of minors labour force workers

Show all
Show less
Back to top