Sunday, November 27, 2022

Jarrahdale dodged wildfire destruction in 2007: Frank Batini

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This article relates to the ongoing debate on ARR.News: Open for Debate – Bushfires, Logging, Burns & Forest Management

Frank Batini

In summer 2007, I planned and supervised the establishment of a research thinning trial in regrowth jarrah (E.marginata) forest about 15 km east of the Western Australian town of Jarrahdale. A mill town for about 130 years, it is now more of a “dormitory suburb” for Perth, with a number of new and expensive homes.

The trial consisted of eight plots, each one hectare in size, thinned to various densities of trees. The plots were established as part of the WA Water Corporation’s Wungong Research Catchment trial, to allow visitors to view and scientists to evaluate different thinning options. The plots were embedded within a larger area, about 120 ha, that was concurrently thinned by the Forest Products Commission as a commercial timber harvesting operation.

Thinned area
Thinned area. Image: Frank Batini

Some six months after thinning, in November 2007, the whole area was treated with a prescribed burn by the Department of Parks and Wildlife. The aim of the burn was to reduce the fuel hazard, including the additional fuels resulting from the thinning.

Then, in late summer 2009, 18 months after the prescribed burn, a wildfire started about three kilometres due east of the thinned area. The fire was reported by a passing motorist, fire crews and a rubber-tyred Cat fitted with a fire-fighting bucket were despatched from the Parks and Wildlife Jarrahdale HQ and, travelling along a bitumen road, they arrived at the fire within 20 minutes of the fire being reported. They found that the fire was burning in heavy fuels driven by a strong easterly breeze. The head-fire had already “crowned” (was burning through the tree-tops). There was nothing the crews could do about the head-fire, so they began work containing the flanks and tail-fire.

Due to the strong wind, the fire was arrow-shaped, long and narrow, and was headed straight for Jarrahdale. Fortunately the head-fire entered the area that had been commercially thinned and prescribe burned 18 months earlier. Starved of ground fuel the crown-fire could not sustain itself and within 50 metres of the boundary the fire dropped to the ground. Here it became a mild ground-fire and was easily and rapidly contained with a mineral-earth break made with the Cat and by the firefighters.

Headfire area
Headfire area. Photo: Frank Batini.

At the time the result did not surprise me as the fire intensity was reduced by about 90 percent due to the lighter fuels, allowing the head-fire to be contained. However there are now city-centric academics and environmentalists with minimal or no bushfire experience that question the effectiveness of prescribed burning in assisting with wildfire control. I am sure there are many other such examples where responsible forest management has averted a costly wildfire disaster and possible loss of lives.

Frank Batini is a Forester, Environmental Scientist and Consultant in Natural Resource Management.

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