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Topics > Fire management > Burning on private lands

Frequently asked questions

Lighting a fire

How do you decide when to burn?

The majority of prescribed burns are undertaken in spring and autumn when there is enough moisture in the landscape to make them easier to control but weather conditions are warm and dry enough to achieve the desired fire intensity.

The Bureau of Meteorology is consulted and a burn is only scheduled if the conditions are appropriate. There is generally a fairly short window of time when fuels are dry enough to burn and the weather is mild enough to make it safe to conduct.

Is burning harmful to the environment?

As a general rule Australia's plants and animals have evolved to flourish, or at least persist, with the particular fire regime they’ve been exposed to.

Before every prescribed burn, staff assess the potential impact on animals and plants, and ensure there is enough unburnt habitat in the landscape for populations to use while the burnt habitat regenerates. Find out more about fire and the environment here.

How do you make sure it’s safe?

Careful planning, preparation and management are key. Staff wait for the right combination of fuel and weather conditions before going ahead. Many months of research, planning, and approvals occur before staff will attempt to ignite a burn.

This includes making sure appropriate firefighting resources are organised and fall-back positions identified before they’re needed. Firefighters patrol the area and extinguish hotspots until the burn is declared safe.

Will everything in the area burn?

Prescribed burning generally targets the ‘fine fuels’ such as dry grass, leaf litter, twigs, bark and other vegetation, similar to what you would use to light a campfire or a fireplace in your lounge room. This fuel type ignites the easiest and carries the fire front.

Larger fuels, such as tree branches and fallen logs, typically don’t burn in the fire front or carry the fire, and are far less combustible. Reducing fine fuels, as well as some of the bark on trees, will make the area safer from bushfires for a number of years.

In areas of mallee vegetation it is sometimes necessary to burn the tree tops to achieve the desired fuel reduction and ecological outcomes. Temporarily reducing the canopy cover can provide access to light and nutrients for a greater variety of plant species, improving the biodiversity of the area.

Who does the burning?

Under this program, prescribed burning on private land is undertaken by skilled fire practitioners from NPWS and SACFS as part of an agreement between the landholder and SACFS.

What is expected from private landholders?

Unfortunately not all properties are suitable for burning or may not present a big enough risk to make it worthwhile. However, if your property is considered suitable, and you are happy to proceed, you will need to sign a landholder agreement with the SACFS and allow staff from NPWS and/or SACFS onto your property to undertake environmental assessments, prepare for and conduct the burn.

Preparation of the site and maintenance of the land following the burn will be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

Are there alternatives to burning?

Prescribed burning is part of a broader strategy to combat bushfires and is generally considered the most effective and ecologically sound method of reducing fuel loads across large areas. Other methods may include mechanical thinning, slashing and weed control. It is important to remember that prescribed burning is not a panacea to reduce bushfire risk and is most effective when incorporated with individual property preparedness. Visit the SACFS for more information on how to prepare your property for bushfire.