The Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) fire staff have been busy across the state over the past few months preparing for and carrying out scheduled planned burns.
Undertaken for fuel reduction, asset protection, cultural and natural values protection and ecological reasons - these planned burns are high on the 'to do' list. Visitor safety and community protection is a priority and planned burns aim to reduce the chance of uncontrolled wildfire over the warmer months.
This year March presented some very stable weather across Tasmania. Agencies were able to commence their planned burning programs.
Fire Planning Officers consider a range of factors including natural, cultural and community values which are specific to each planned burn location.
The vegetation type, flammability and ability to regenerate are all considered in determining the required intensity of the planned burn. Threatened species are fully considered and each species may have different requirements. Our planners create specific prescriptions to manage these conditions.
Protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage values and historic sites are taken into consideration. Proximity to campgrounds and areas of human habitation, community events and essential infrastructure like TasNetworks bring another set of constraints to be worked around.
The weather 'window'
Long before the appropriate weather conditions are on the horizon, the requirements for ignition, safety and control have been thought through, planned and reviewed. The burn weather that is needed to achieve the goals at each individual location is known as the 'weather prescriptions'.
Planners wait for the predicted weather window to have stability, wind from the right direction for that particular burn, fuel and soil moisture content needs to be just right – not too low and not too high to ensure correct intensity and to protect organic soils. Depending on the season the necessary 'prescribed' conditions may not occur for months and may not occur at all resulting in the burn being delayed until the subsequent year.
PWS fire crew as well as fire trained field staff can be called at short notice and often need to drop other works programs when the conditions are right. Equipment - hose lines, pumps, drip torch fuel and fire fighting vehicles need to be ready and in place for ignition.
What's been happening lately?
In recent months planned burns have been completed in reserves at Port Sorell, Stieglitz, Coles Bay Orford, Cygnet, Coningham, Savage River, Scotts Peak Dam and within the Peter Murrell Reserve.
Conservation values were the main focus last week with burns undertaken at Melaleuca in the Southwest National Park. The critically endangered Orange-bellied Parrots have headed back to their winter feeding grounds in Victoria. With the favourable conditions prevailing, planned burns were successfully undertaken at Melaleuca to promote fresh regrowth and food resources for the threatened species. Reducing the fuel loading around the Melaleuca infrastructure, historic homes and the airstrip were also objectives of this burn.
In the coming weeks burns are scheduled for Binalong Bay, Flinders Island and during the annual shutdown in late May on the Three Capes Track. Monitoring every changing weather window, burn planners are balancing competing resources and logistics to ensure they can be resourced with appropriate staff, equipment and vehicles.
Future burns planned for late autumn, weather permitting, include reserves at Arthur River, King Island, Bruny Island, Gladstone, and Lefroy.
Currently this season PWS have undertaken 14 burns covering an area of over 800 hectares however these figures are rapidly changing.
For more information
It goes without saying that a planned burn will generate smoke. PWS reminds everyone, if you have asthma or a medical condition and there is a planned burn scheduled near you, we encourage you to gain advice from the Department of Health and Asthma Australia.
People can keep up to date with planned burning by following the new PWS Planned burn web page shows proposed and current PWS planned burns on a zoomable map.
Once the burn is underway, the Tasmania Fire Service What's burning now page is regularly updated to keep the community informed.