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The story of managing fire

DEW is a custodian of national parks, botanic gardens, heritage places and Crown lands which make up approximately 25% of South Australia. This means it manages public lands for South Australians on behalf of the Minister for Environment and Water.

This involves managing native vegetation including threatened species and ecological communities (across public and private land) through legislation and regulation that protects the environment.

Reducing bushfire risk is an ongoing and shared responsibility and everyone has a role, and as a manager of public lands DEW runs a NPWSSA Fire Management Program made up of people who are passionate about the environment, and who use their skills to reduce bushfire risk and improve biodiversity across these lands. This professional team has expertise in fire planning, fire ecology, prescribed burning and suppressing bushfires.

And because fire doesn’t respect borders, a Burning on Private Land Program was created, in partnership with the CFS, to conduct prescribed burns on strategically located private land. These fires will reduce fuel loads in areas at greatest risk of bushfire across the state, and link to the public land prescribed burns program.

The Fire Management Program also operates as a Group under the CFS to direct its fire management and bushfire suppression work. It’s referred to as the National Parks and Wildlife Service Brigade which is made up of seven regional brigades and two specialist brigades with over 500 trained DEW and Landscape Board staff as firefighters or operational support members.

These include close to 400 firefighters and over 100 operational support staff from across the department and Landscape Boards, including 146 brigade members who are specialist fire management staff.

What we do

We use prescribed burns to help lessen the risk, intensity and spread of future bushfires, make suppression more achievable and safer, and as an ecological tool to maintain or improve the biodiversity of the bush while consuming hazardous fuels.

How we do it

Reduce risk

We reduce the risk of bushfires to human life, property, infrastructure and environmental assets by reducing fuel with the right kind of fire in the right place, at the right time and applied in the right way AND by modifying vegetation with lopping, chipping, slashing, rolling or weeding.

We aim to do this in an environmentally sensitive way, on public or private land, where a high risk has been identified.

Respond to bushfire

We are a skilled team of fire specialists with firefighting appliances across the state to prepare for and respond to bushfires wherever they occur in support of the CFS. Our staff are trained to help CFS and other control agencies manage emergencies with expertise in incident control, mapping, managing data, predicting fire behaviour and natural values.

We assist with interstate and overseas bushfires as part of cooperative arrangements with other emergency services and operate as the largest group of brigades of the CFS. Although volunteers are the largest component of most CFS brigades, volunteers don’t form part of the NPWSSA brigade.

We partner with the CFS at bushfires on public and private lands. This support is often reciprocated with volunteer CFS brigades invited to prescribed burns, which strengthens the CFS’ firefighting capability, gives volunteers further training opportunities, enables them to contribute to mitigation works in their own community and provides additional support to NPWSSA. This on-ground collaboration strengthens the working relationship of the two organisations.

Build skilled teams

We are professionals with skills in fire and land management, risk, planning and ecology, who work in partnership with other emergency service agencies and the community.

We maintain the agency’s firefighting capacity and skills through training, learning and development, and maintain firefighting equipment, tracks and infrastructure in strategic locations across the state.

Understand the ecology

We use the ecological process of fire as a tool to manage the environment to help native plants establish and improve habitat for animals, or to help with weed control. We do this as part of our planning, which includes strategies for native plant species that require fire or are sensitive to fire.

Work with First Nations people

DEW acknowledges the First Peoples of South Australia; the Aboriginal Customary Owners and the role that Aboriginal People continue to have in purposefully shaping and caring for the area that we now know as South Australia.

We respect Traditional Owners’ rights, interests and obligations to speak for and care for Country in accordance with customary laws, beliefs and traditions. We appreciate the perspective of Aboriginal People that the land, water, air and all living things are connected and we are thankful for their insights.

Our work is underpinned by:

People

Fire management is everybody’s business and everyone has a role to plan and be prepared for a bushfire.

We collaborate with the CFS; conservation and industry groups; other state government agencies that manage public land; and state and national emergency management agencies, to reduce bushfire risk and/or fight fires.

We support a culture of high-quality and effective stakeholder and community engagement, and we are committed to working with, and learning from, Aboriginal Nations to manage fire in the landscape.

Planning

We continuously plan, assess and monitor to minimise risks and maximise benefits to communities, and to preserve and enhance biodiversity. This means decisions are well considered and based on the best available knowledge.

A huge amount of behind the scenes work is done before an area is burnt. For example, planning for a burn includes an environmental assessment helps determine if we go ahead, postpone or cancel the burn, or work out ways to reduce any negative impact.

A test burn is also carried out to test fuel moisture and fire behaviour, and the Bureau of Meteorology is also consulted as weather is the most important factor for a safe burn (e.g. wind direction and speed, relative humidity, temperature and fuel moisture).

Knowledge

We use the best available global, national and local science, data and knowledge and adapt our plans based on what we find out.

We manage spatial data, and undertake monitoring, evaluation and research. Learning lessons from each event is an important part of managing fire, which goes towards helping to reduce the impact of future bushfires and keeping communities safer.

Value

We proudly serve the community of South Australia and ensure that public funds are wisely invested to reduce bushfire risk to the community and enhance the environment.

Our work environment

Our work is driven by a range of State and Commonwealth Acts, Regulations and policies.

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