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Topics > Fire management > Burning on private land

Frequently asked questions

Lighting a fire  

How do you decide when to burn?

Prescribed burns mostly occur in spring and autumn when there is enough moisture in the landscape to make fire easier to control, and weather conditions warm and dry enough for fires to start and spread but not so hot or windy that they could get out of control. 

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. Once a prescribed fire takes hold we treat it with the same respect that we would a bushfire, but because we started it we have greater control. Many months of research, planning, and approvals occur before staff will attempt to ignite a burn.

This includes working with the CFS to look for potential problems and to minimise risks by making sure all back-up resources are organised and fallback positions identified before they’re needed.

Do you burn the trees?

The fuel which is targeted are 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 a fire front, making it the most dangerous of all.

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.

Why do you burn?

Prescribed burns reduce fuel loads across strategic areas of public and private land to help limit the spread and intensity of bushfires and protect communities. It does this by creating low fuel areas which provide safer areas for fire fighters to work from.

As well as protecting people and property, prescribed burns are used to manage vegetation and promote biodiversity.

For example many plants require fire to stimulate seed pods to open and to release seeds into the ash to germinate with reduced competition, like Banksias. Other plants like Yaccas (Xanthorrhoea) use fire as a cue to flower, and some seeds also wait for a fire to germinate.

Who does the burning?

In South Australia, prescribed burning is part of a shared responsibility with the CFS, government agencies that manage land (NPWSSA, ForestrySA and SA Water), local councils and private landholders.

What is expected from private landholders?

If a land owner’s property is identified as being in a suitable location for a strategic fuel reduction burn, they will be contacted by NPWSSA staff to discuss the possibility. 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 the more extreme fires Australia now faces. However, prescribed burning is often the most effective and ecologically sound method of reducing fuel loads across large areas, and this is assessed on a case by case basis.

Download this burning on private lands fact sheet.pdf

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