Prescribed Burning Myths By Viv Forbes
Considerable publicity is being given to 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).
Lamont and He are academics from Curtin University in WA, the former a botanist and the latter a molecular biologist. They argue against the use of fuel reduction burning in bushfire management because it does not "stop bushfires". The article should be filed among works of fiction.
A destructive wildfire needs three things:
A heavy fuel load
Hot, dry, windy conditions
Of these, the only factor humans can control is the fuel load, which can be reduced by grazing, forestry operations, firewood collection, slashing/mulching or repeated planned cool-season burning. The Australian plant landscape developed under frequent patchwork burning by Aboriginals which produced the grasslands and open forests that Europeans admired when they arrived. Graziers and good forest managers refined and continued this practice until bureaucratic barriers and academic theorists severely curtailed all preventative burning. The authors appear to have no understanding of fire behaviour, no appreciation of how a prescribed burning program works, or how bushfires are controlled. If their opinions were given any credibility, it would give rise to dangerous fire management policies, a continuation of the recent cycle of devastating bushfires in Australia, and further losses of lives, homes, wildlife and beautiful forests. Bushfire Front members Ric Sneeuwjagt and Neil Burrows have written a response, which is more than a rebuttal of these claims, it also a useful statement on the value of fuel reduction burning, written by two of the world’s most credible bushfire experts.
Executive Director, The Saltbush Club