Call to reduce threats of future fires

File photograph


MORE than 130 people attending a public meeting at Mallacoota last week have called for fuel reduction on public land to fight the threat of bushfires in Gippsland.

The meeting, organised by the Howitt Society, sought to focus on the question “Are Mallacoota and East Gippsland in general prepared for another major fire?”

The resolution arose after a presentation by the world-renowned forest fire expert Dr Kevin Tolhurst, Associate Professor in Fire Ecology and Management in the Department of Forest and Ecosystem Science, University of Melbourne.

Professor Tolhurst died shortly after presenting his address.

The resolution, passed overwhelmingly, was “That this meeting requests The Howitt Society to recommend to government that the current Safer Together policy, which focuses on burning strategically to protect assets, be extended to a broad-based approach, aiming for a minimum of five per cent of Victoria’s public land being fuel-reduced annually, as per Recommendation 56 of the 2009 Bushfires Royal Commission.”

The society’s president, Peter Flinn, said this change was essential to lessen the ember attack caused by high intensity fire some distance from the assets.

The recommendation also recognises that the forest itself is an asset which needs to be protected using regular low intensity fire, in order to maintain forest health and protect environmental values within the forest, including flora, fauna, soil and water.

The presentation from Dr Tolhurst clearly showed how the fire that hit Mallacoota in 2019/20 would have been much less severe had there been regular fuel reduction burning operations in the surrounding forest area.

Other key messages from the presentation included:

-On days of extreme fire danger, a wildfire progresses by a series of spot fires, often a long way ahead of the fire front. These spot fires are caused by burning embers driven by wind and cause the loss of most assets such as houses;

-For every hectare of fuel reduction achieved, there will be three hectares of reduction in the area burnt by wildfire, and at a lower intensity, and;

-Of the many factors affecting fire intensity (wind, temperature, humidity, slope and fuel type and quantity) the only factor which managers can influence is fuel quantity. Fuel reduction burning is the most cost effective way of reducing that fuel.

Mr Flinn said sadly, this was Dr Tolhurst’s last presentation.

“His knowledge of forest fire management was unsurpassed and he had the ability to pass that knowledge on to others,” he said.

“It was fitting that all those attending the meeting, who were keen to gain more knowledge about fire prevention and management techniques to keep communities safe, were the final beneficiaries of Dr Tolhurst’s expertise. Australians – and the forest that Dr Tolhurst loved – will be the poorer for his passing.”