What is the evidence behind hazard-reduction burning?
By Philip Gibbons
Hazard-reduction burning or prescribed burning is the deliberate burning of forest outside the fire season to reduce fine fuels (dead leaves, loose bark and small branches). Bushfires are more readily controlled when they contain less of this flammable material.
The majority of houses are destroyed during bushfires burning in extremely hot, dry and windy weather. In such conditions hazard reduction burning may not reduce the intensity of a fire sufficiently to permit effective suppression. For example, most houses in Marysville were destroyed during Black Saturday despite a ring of hazard reduction burning.
Hazard reduction burning is more effective if undertaken close to houses, but this is often impractical due to infrastructure such as fences and utilities, livestock, the health hazard from smoke and the risk to property and lives should a hazard-reduction burn escape.
Bad fire seasons are often seasons when the window for safe hazard reduction burning is small, and therefore little hazard reduction burning can be safely undertaken.