Prescribed burns to reduce the risk and strength of bushfires need to be intensively targeted to urban and built-up areas, new research from the University of Tasmania has found.
In the largest simulation study of its kind, researchers studied how effective prescribed burning treatments are in preventing large-scale bushfires.
The study used Tasmania as the ideal location for its diverse ecology, testing out three different forms of fire management through 60,000 individual fire simulations under 62 prescribed burn scenarios.
The three bushfire management scenarios studied were no prescribed burns, burning the maximum amount ecologically possible, and 12 statewide implementation plans. Researchers concluded intensive prescribed burns targeting urban and built-up areas was the most effective.
Environmental change biology Professor David Bowman said this scenario was the most challenging to use as it had a higher impact on communities, and higher cost.
“The results from the study are an important stepping stone to a much better understanding of options and building adaptive capacity for the fire crisis we are now in,” Professor Bowman said.
“Tasmania ... is an ideal setting for conducting modelling studies to determine the best approach in using burning to reduce fire hazard. It is not possible to tackle this issue with case studies or experiments, modelling is the only way to capture the complexity of this question.”
The report noted that every inquiry after a disastrous bushfire in Australia had led to recommendations of more prescribed burning, but the effectiveness of burning had never been so analytically studied.
“We need to explore what options we have in response to the dangerous flammable landscapes that are unfortunately found in Tasmania, and particularly around the hinterlands of Hobart,” Professor Bowman said.
The study by James Furlaud, Dr Grant Williamson and Professor Bowman, was partnered by the Tasmania Fire Service and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre.