In classical Greek philosophy earth, water, air and fire were seen as the elements by which the complexities of nature could be explained. The use of fire has been a constant, vital in the evolution of civilizations around the world.
Fire has been a natural part of the bush capital for millennia, influencing and moulding the landscape around us. Long before Europeans stepped foot upon the Limestone Plains, Indigenous communities understood the role fire played in the natural rhythm of life on the banks of the Molonglo River.
The grassy woodlands responded well to the life-giving qualities of fire, regenerating with abundant new growth that supported a rich diversity of endemic species. Cool burns trickling through these grasslands encouraged fresh green pick for hungry macropods. In turn, Aboriginal groups feasted upon these grazing mobs.
There was a natural balance, a tempo which resonated to the timing of seasonal change. With contemporary residential development where fire once naturally spread, we have altered the landscape and vegetation, planted forests and built our cities.
Yet fire is still a natural influencer.
Rather than exclude fire, we now see it as a critical tool for land managers to apply to the ecosystem to protect our community, improve ecosystem health and protect natural and built assets.
As environmental custodians we plan for and deliver prescribed burns. Prescribed burns involve the careful lighting of fires in a predetermined area under specific weather conditions. They are conducted by highly experienced fire managers ably supported by competent firefighters.
With autumn in the air we are continually seeking suitable weather windows to implement these burns. The decision to put fire into the landscape is never taken lightly, with a high level of planning for every prescribed burn. We use a ‘decision support tool’, developed here in the ACT and adopted nationally by various fire agencies. This tool systematically reviews the factors that contribute to the risk of the fire escaping and smoke while providing ways we can reduce the impact to the public.
While smoke is inevitable, every effort is made to conduct burns under conditions that minimise the impact on our neighbours. Before leaving a fire ground, a detailed risk assessment is completed and buffer zones established. Although stumps and heavy logs may continue to smoulder, with flames still visible in the middle of this fire ground, the fires are regularly patrolled to ensure public safety.
With autumn presenting windows of opportunity for the burns, you may see smoke. Take comfort knowing that where there is this smoke there will be fire, but it will be applied by professionals and designed to enhance, protect and conserve our beautiful bush capital.
To follow the implementation of our program visit Upcoming Prescribed Burns - Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate - Environment
- Brett McNamara is with ACT Parks & Conservation Service.