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Topics > Fire management > What are prescribed burns?

How prescribed burns are planned

Before a prescribed burn occurs there is much planning and preparation involved.

Deciding where to burn

  • Fire management plans are prepared, the areas within the plan are divided up into zones (asset, buffer and conservation zones). This determines how the fuel in each zone is treated, and therefore where prescribed burns are likely to occur.
  • Within a conservation zone, areas will be marked that are under consideration for burning. From the fire management plan comes an annual works schedule, determining which areas are burnt each year.
  • Further considerations include plants, animals, fuel loads, past fires, cultural heritage significance and the location of neighbouring properties.

Considering the environment

  • When planning for a burn, the environment is carefully assessed to understand any risks that may be present.
  • This includes assessing the potential impact on native animals and plants, and ensures habitats are available for animals to move into until the original habitat regenerates.
  • The assessment also includes site surveys which identify fuel loads and cultural heritage sites.
  • This step also informs what the aim of the burn will be and what the best time of year to burn is.
  • Follow-up assessments are conducted after the burn to see if the objectives have been met.

This short video takes you through the steps.

Planning how to burn safely

  • Burns are planned months in advance using firefighter expertise and knowledge to ensure everyone stays safe.
  • The location of trucks and crew, the weather forecast and letting neighbours know all contribute to a successful burn.
  • Before every prescribed burn, NPWS carefully assesses the weather, dryness of the vegetation and site geography to manage any risk factors.
  • Whenever a burn is happening, appropriate back-up resources and fall-back positions are available in case a prescribed burn crosses control lines.

A window of opportunity

  • Generally, prescribed burning takes place in autumn and spring, and only on certain days when conditions are suitable.
  • The right combination of fuel load, fuel moisture, temperature, relative humidity and wind speed is needed for a prescribed burn to be conducted safely and effectively.
  • In some parts of the state, depending on seasonal conditions, burns can also happen at other times of the year.

The day of the burn

  • Once the planning and weather comes together, the burn commences with a test burn to confirm conditions are right.
  • Throughout the day firefighters monitor weather and the fire activity, they communicate with each other and patrol until the planned burn is declared safe.

New life from out of the ashes

  • After a planned burn is completed, staff monitor the site to record how plants and animals respond and use this information to improve future planned burns.
  • Weeds can often come up after fire and there are staff dedicated to treating any weeds to stop them from becoming a problem.
  • Through ongoing fire monitoring and research, and as we gain experience with new techniques, it is hoped that new ways to carry out more prescribed burns over a wider area will be discovered. This will allow us to take greater advantage of the small windows of opportunity provided by the weather.

More information