Risk mitigation from prescribed burning in Kangaroo Island and Mount Lofty Ranges - Black Summer final report | Natural Hazards Research Australia

Risk mitigation from prescribed burning in Kangaroo Island and Mount Lofty Ranges - Black Summer final report

An extension to the Prescribed Burning Atlas project as part of the Black Summer research program

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Learning from disasters

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Author Hamish Clarke , Brett Cirulis , Owen Price , Ross Bradstock , Matthias Boer , Anthony Rawlins , Trent Penman

According to the Independent Review into South Australia’s 2019-20 Bushfire Season, conditions were the worst on record with fires resulting in the loss of three human lives, 196 homes, 660 vehicles, 68,000 livestock, $200m of agricultural production. Around 280,000 ha were burnt by the fires, including total or partial burning of several National Parks.

The Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC commissioned this project as part of a larger set of Black Summer fires research projects aimed at understanding the record-breaking fire season. This project focuses on answering questions about the effectiveness of prescribed burning, also known as hazard reduction burning, in mitigating risk in two areas affected by fires during the season: The Mount Lofty Ranges east of Adelaide, and Kangaroo Island.

The key questions were:

  1. How does risk respond to treatment in Kangaroo Island, an area with little formal quantification of prescribed burning benefits and costs?
  2. What was the risk in the leadup to the 2019-20 fire season in the Mt Lofty Ranges, and how will risk change in the next five years as a result of the implied fuel reduction from the fires, as well as alternative prescribed burning strategies?

These questions were answered using a well developed methodology combining large scale fire behaviour simulations and Bayesian risk quantification. Similar analyses have been carried out for a range of case study landscapes in southern Australia as part of the Hectares to tailor-made solutions CRC project, with results available online via the end-user tool the Prescribed Burning Atlas, and also the NSW Bushfire Risk Management Research Hub’s projects for the NSW Bushfire Inquiry.

We found a clear relationship between the rate of prescribed burning and area subsequently burnt by wildfire in the Kangaroo Island case study. This translated into reductions in loss of life and property as well. Risk mitigation was more sensitive to edge treatment than landscape treatment, although both reduced risk. Conversely, increasing treatment (particularly at the edge) resulted in higher areas of the landscape exposed to vegetation being burnt below its minimum tolerable fire interval.

In the Mt Lofty Ranges, we found complex patterns of risk are likely in the aftermath of the 2019-20 fires. In the absence of further wildfire events, risk of area burnt is likely to rise substantially by 2025, regardless of prescribed burning rates, with a similar result for vegetation exposed to too frequent fire. However, risk sto life, property and infrastructure are projected to remain similar to current levels.

Our work contributes to the evidence base for prescribed burning planning in South Australia, with future work potentially examining new management values (e.g. smoke health costs, new biodiversity measures) and exploring empirical relationships between prescribed burning and fire-affected area in 2019-20.

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Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC
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Related projects

Black Summer bushfires: South Australia reconstructions