David Karoly, from the School of Earth Sciences at Melbourne University, told a seminar last night the climatic conditions experienced in Victoria on February 7 were unprecedented, with temperatures so high the soil caught on fire.

Professor Karoly said the devastated area northeast of Melbourne had experienced a 12-year drought before the fires, which had already reduced the fuel load. “But fuel reduction burning would have made no difference. The fires would have been uncontrollable with minimal amounts of fuel.”

He said the fire was so intense that bare soil burnt in some places, and there were reports of the humus in ploughed ground burning.[1]

      The regime of prescribed FRB in the areas surrounding the crown lands of NE Victoria failed to reduce the intensity of the fire front .


A rational approach


Pre-emptive burning at the scale and frequency proposed by the proponents of more burning will impoverish our natural environment and leave our community just as, or even more, vunerable to fire.


The rational response to fire risk is more investment in a sophisticated, multi-faceted approach to fire management and protection, which includes limited and carefully targeted pre-emptive burning, but does not rely upon it. We need four things:

1. More focus on preventing fires, including arson. There is a risk that constant talk of the need for more burning, and of how much our environment likes fire, will encourage arson;

2. More investment in our capacity to detect fires soon after they start, and our capacity to put fires out before they become wildfires. This means better aerial fire fighting capacity and also ground-based rapid response teams;

3. More care in where we allow settlements to occur, discouraging building in areas at risk from wildfires. If people choose to live in such places they must accept the risk of wildfire;

4. More focus on improved strategic firebreaks and buffers around vulnerable communities and assets, as opposed to frequent broadscale burning of remote bushland.[2]







The last few decades in Australia have seen an acceleration of the process of identifying land that ought to be set aside in conservation reserves. To a large extent, these special places have been gazetted and put under some protection status as conservation reserves, be they national parks, biosphere reserves, nature reserves, or reference areas. Now we need to know that what we do in these reserves will conserve what’s there. The legal requirements regarding minimising hazard from wildfires has seen an increased emphasis placed on fuel reduction burning that achieves the dual goals of hazard reduction and conservation.

The use of fire as a management tool in this respect has come under increased scrutiny because we have become alert to changes in the understorey caused by too many fires too soon after each other. The management response, in a lot of cases, has been to set minimum fire free periods, but there is a danger in this approach in that managers are apt to accept a fixed rotation period for fire which may, in the long run, be just as detrimental to the vegetation assemblages. The problem confronting conservation land managers is therefore one of determining the most appropriate fire regimes for a multitude of vegetation types. In this way the dual goals of hazard reduction and conservation of those vegetation types are both achieved.

Thanks to a long history of judicious forestry practice in Australia, we are generally well versed in the requirements of most of the important forest overstorey species; however, the case for the lesser plants – the forest understorey – is not so well understood. Hence, modelling the fate of understorey plant communities through time, given recurrent disturbance by fire, requires some knowledge of the responses of individual understorey species to fire and probabilities of fires returning before recovery of vulnerable species within understorey communities.[3]

 The recent announcement of the Fraser Coast Bioregion brings into the focus the single largest threat to the biodiversity values of the region ;

  • fuel reduction burning regimes designed and implemented with no understanding of fire related ecology.


The creation and implementation of FMS is a first step in the right direction, it will therefore be essential that funding is allocated to ensure that the draft FMS can be implemented at the regional level. Given the size , ecological complexity  and location of council managed lands ,   relative to freehold lands , the success of maintaining and or improving the ecological values of council lands with biodiversity values , will depend to a large extent on :

  • The qualifications and experience of the successful candidate ( FIRE OFFICER)
  • The proposed time frame for creating  individual reserve plans
  • The possibility for fire ecology education for  adjoining FH property owners
  • The possibility for fire ecology education for Rural brigades
  • The possibility for fire ecology education for Councilors
  • The creation of a fire ecology  management group to support the FO





This position requires the candidate to demonstrate an intimate knowledge of contemporary fire ecology in balance with fire operations and management. Whilst many graduates may be experienced in the theory of fire ecology, it is rare to find a candidate with senior fire management on ground experience, coupled with practical ecological domain experience. Similarly with candidates with previous senior fire management skills .


Fire  (operations) management is  but one half of the skills requirement . An alternative and community  based outcome would be the ability for local rural brigades to form the core of operations under the direction of the FO , local rural brigades currently carry out FRB on council lands ( increased council  funding for equipment purchase and management would be required ) , this regime needs to be refined to ‘ecologically prescribed and researched regimes’,


The FO position should be based within the environment section, with a cross linkage to council assets section.




There are 1793 reserve lots within the FCRC area which contain native vegetation and regional ecosystems , this does not include FH council owned lots , such as Burrum town .( Refer map below )




The creation of fire management plans for these individual lots will require a detailed field assessment of each lot, to determine the previous fire impacts and the ecosystems floristic structure. The issue will be complicated where floristics have been impacted from excessive fire frequency and the ability for adjacent landowners perceptions of what constitutes a ‘wild fire’ risk, to be in contrast to fire ecology principals .




As evidenced in the map above the largest area of reserves exists within the original ‘Hervey Bay Area’ , and hence perceived threats to life and property in rural residential settings , is likely to be exaggerated due to the demographics in residents consisting of ex- southern Australian retirees .


Many of the members of rural brigades are citizens who have migrated to the near coastal areas and have a perception that the historical fire regime and ecosystem factors, which underpin the FC Biosphere, are identical to the ecology and climate scenarios of the southern states. This is not the case, our geographical position and latitude dictates that we have a moist summer/autumn and generally dry winter, with spring storm fronts bringing fire hazard reduction rainfall of varying intensities. 


Whilst it is acknowledged that the rainfall patterns towards the western FCRC areas of Woocoo and Tiaro are within the 800-1000mm isocline , the relatively small areas of rural residential land use within those areas, compared to the much larger grazing and cropping land use , should result in a somewhat lesser ‘wild fire  risk perception’ .


This is not to assume that the rural brigades and general populace of these areas understand the principals of fire ecology .Historically much of the grazing lands , FH remnant vegetation and  leased lands within the areas have been subjected to elevated fire regimes for grass production before spring rains . This has resulted in biodiversity loss , soil nutrients loss , and water quality impacts  and amenity loss ( air pollution ) .


 As result of the Healthy Habitats programme , REMC has received anecdotal information from various grazing ratepayers in the western areas , that regular burning in some areas has lead to increased erosion over the preceding 3 decades , principally due to reduced rainfall ( ground cover reductions ) , but linked to  increased intensity of the spring falls, leading to salinity issues in the lower Mary . This has lead to graziers  altering the frequency of fire regimes , which is ‘capacity to change by observation’ .


A programme of community education for fire ecology will be essential to underpin the strategy.



Councilors will be  the first port of call for irate ratepayers claiming that a management plan for fire ecology for the region will lead to a  ‘Black Saturday’, it will be essential that Councilors are given an understanding of the basis of fire ecology principals , to enable them to assuage the voters emotional reactions .  






The FO will greatly benefit from having a reference group composed of  2 Local Brigade first officers , 2 local ecologists , 2 community conservation    and 2 Agency FO’s to assist with fire ecology planning as part of the management strategy , the TOR for the group should include ;

  • Assisting the FO with prioritization of management units ( Lots)
  • Policy creation
  • Budgeting for monitoring and research
  • Public information dissemination
  • Promotion of  fire ecology principals to community at large
  • Creation of educational tools for landholders adjacent  to council lands



18TH JUNE 2009






[1] http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25368290-5006785,00.html

[2] Woinarski J.C.Z., Fire and Australian Birds: A Review, in Australia’s Biodiversity – Responses to Fire; Environment Australia Technical Paper No. 1, 1999,

[3] Tolhurst , K 1996 , Proceedings of the conference held 8-9 October 1994, Footscray, Melbourne
Biodiversity Series, Paper No. 8

Biodiversity Unit
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1996

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