In Defence of Prescribed Burning By James Reed
There is a great article:
“How and why prescribed burning mitigates bushfire losses,”
Neil Burrowsi and Rick Sneeuwjagtii, which gives a detailed critique of an article by Byron Lamont and Tianhua He titled “Why prescribed burns don’t stop wildfires” (published in New Matilda, and also WAToday 22 January 2020). They argue against the use of fuel reduction burning in bushfire management. Their conclusion is that prescribed burnings do not stop bushfires. The critique is very strong, better than what I could say:
“The article is work of complete fiction. It exposes the fact that the authors have no experience or operational understanding of fire behaviour, and have not got the faintest appreciation of how a prescribed burning program works, or how bushfires are controlled. Their baseless and inhumane opinions, if given any credibility, would give rise to dangerous fire management policies, a continuation of the cycle of devastating bushfires in Australia, and to further losses of lives and beautiful forests. The title of their article is a clue to their utter lack of understanding. Fuel reduction burning is not designed to "stop wildfires". The purpose is to make them easier, safer and cheaper to control. Experienced land managers, firefighters, and bushfire scientists, are in no doubt about this. The scientific, experiential and historical evidence all demonstrate that prescribed burning, done properly, is highly effective at mitigating the bushfire threat, and assists with the control of fires even under severe weather conditions.
Identifying the flaws in their argument takes only a few seconds. Firstly, Lamont and He ignore fire science. Reducing fuel loads and simplifying fuel structures by regular burning reduces the speed of a bushfire, its intensity (heat energy output), the size of the flames and its ember and spotting potential. All of this makes bushfires easier to put out, and less damaging. In mature forests, crown fires cannot be sustained if the surface and near surface fuels are at low levels as a result of regular fuel reduction burning. Lamont and He make the extraordinary assertion that long unburnt forest fuels are of low flammability and therefore of no significant threat to communities. This is not only demonstrably untrue, it is dangerously wrong. For example, in long unburnt karri forest, much of the live, green understorey dies and becomes dead, dry fuel on the forest floor after about 25-30 years. Bushfires are most likely to occur well before that time. Dead scrub, together with accumulated dead leaves, twigs and bark, the surface and aerated near-surface fuels can be a meter or more deep with total fuel loads of up to 50 tonnes per hectare. In dryer stringybark forests, the sparser, lower understorey vegetation comprises a small component of the total fuel complex. It is the accumulation of dead fuels (leaves, twigs, branchlets, bark) that drives forest fires. This is because it is at the base of the ‘fuel ladder’, it is dry, and it reaches very high loadings if left unburnt. We have studied actual fuel measurements in forests all over Australia, and never once have we found a situation where the forests become non-flammable in time. The reverse is the case.”
Much more is written but the main point can be grasped. Common sense indicates that if an area has less fuel, one has a better chance of minimising fire damage, all other things, like wind velocity being equal. Anyway, taking the argument of Greenies who are against prescribed burning, should we adopt a principle of maximising flammable material in an area? Would that make them happy, as they burnt? Common sense has long flown from this society.