Proper management of trees and vegetation was the best defence against widespread and intense bushfires, Environment Minister Tony McRae said today.
“Fuel management, through prescribed burning or other techniques such as scrub rolling, is the only realistic option land managers have if we want to avoid situations such as those currently in Victoria,” Mr McRae said.
“It is also clear from the coroner’s report, released this week, into the Canberra firestorm in January 2003 that fuel hazard reduction is critical, especially where suburbs meet the bush.
“However, strategic prescribed burns across areas such as the South-West forests are also crucial to prevent fires burning for days that can be ecologically, socially and economically damaging.”
The Minister said preventing bushfires in a fire-prone environment such as Western Australia’s was impossible.
“Each summer we have hundreds of bushfires caused by lightning strikes or humans.
“In the 45 years since the Dwellingup inferno, we have not had a major forest fire that has resulted in extensive loss of human life, private property or community assets.
“It is no coincidence that in those 45 years, our land management agencies have conducted extensive annual prescribed burning programs.
“There is graphic evidence that strategic, low fuel buffer zones are major tools in managing big fires.
“The Perth Hills fire of January 2005, for example, was contained along sections of its boundary because of areas the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) prescribed burned one to three years earlier.”
Mr McRae said the amount of trees and vegetation, topography and weather were the three key factors that determined the intensity of bushfires.
“Obviously we cannot control weather or the topography, but we can manage fuel loads,” he said.
The Minister said the DEC had completed or started prescribed burns over almost 100,000ha in the South-West forests since September and would continue burns in the lower South-West as the need arose.
“The DEC advises me that despite the dry winter in the South-West, in areas such as Pemberton, the department has not been able to undertake much prescribed burning in the heavy karri country because the vegetation is too wet,” he said.
“However, as these fuels dry, the department will continue its prescribed burning operations over the coming months.
“Weather conditions permitting, the DEC will undertake an autumn prescribed burning program of a further 100,000ha.”
Mr McRae said the State Government had increased the DEC’s budget for fire management by $10million a year since 2001.
The Government also had provided an additional $5.5million for new fire fighting equipment this financial year and, in conjunction with the Federal Government, was committing $1.1million for a range of bushfire reduction projects across the State.
These included upgrading fire access trails, particularly in areas where the DEC had reserves next to private property.
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