Reducing fuel loads helps but not in catastrophic fires: royal commission

Reducing fuel loads helps but not in catastrophic fires: royal commission

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When it comes to extreme conditions, the size of the fuel load makes little difference to a bushfire's behaviour.

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THE bushfire royal commission has found reducing fuel loads will help limit the impacts of a normal fires, but warns that in extreme conditions, the size of the fuel load makes little difference.

After the unprecedented 2019/20 bushfire season, which claimed the lives of 33 people, many pinned the blame on the size of local fuel loads and the lack of hazard reduction burns.

The royal commission report, released on Friday, emphasised that fuel management activities were not intended to prevent bushfires, but were effective when combined with other prevention measures.

But in catastrophic conditions, like those seen throughout much of the past bushfire season, the size of "fuel loads do not appear to have a material impact on fire behaviour".

The royal commission heard evidence that in the six major fire incidents in South Australia, there were "limitations on the success of hazard reduction" activities as the fire danger index increased.

"The weight of research... indicates that as conditions deteriorate, fuel reduction is of diminishing effectiveness, and may have no appreciable effect under extreme conditions," the report stated.

However, the report points out that does not mean fuel management cannot be used to reduced risks.

"Severe weather conditions do not persist continually," the report states.

"Where conditions are moderate, even for short periods, there are opportunities for suppression that can be assisted by managing fuel loads.

"Reducing available fuels in the landscape can also slow the initial rate of fire spread and fire intensity, which can provide opportunities for fire suppression."

The effects of fuel load management are "relatively short-lived", with research suggesting it is effective for one to four years.

The royal commission recommended public land managers should make their fuel load management strategies available to the public, along with the rational behind them and an annual report on their implementation.

It also suggested all state and territory governments review their approval process for hazard reductions, and if possible, make it quicker to grant approvals.

In its third and final land management recommendation, the royal commission called for all governments to develop a consistent processes for the classification, recording and sharing of fuel load data.

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