As Australia’s bushfire crisis spreads, you might hear certain phrases like “hazard reduction” or “back burning” on local news broadcasts to describe firefighting tactics. While similar in nature, these processes work very differently. Here’s what you should know.
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What is hazard reduction?
Hazard reduction, also known as fuel reduction, is a process that takes place preemptively to protect land and property before a fire approaches. It can be ‘targeted burning’ of certain areas by professional firefighters to reduce the spread of fires in the near future, but it doesn’t always involve burning land.
This preventative technique is about lowering the risk of fire spreading to nearby land or vegetation by any means, and can include chopping down trees or removing flammable leaf litter. The aim of hazard reduction is to remove potential fuel for approaching fires, thereby reducing overall risk of combustion. This is why you’ll often see homeowners clearing leaves from their gutters or washing other potential fuel from their driveways – it reduces the risk of fire spread.
As of Monday morning, ongoing bushfires have continued to devastate Australia. At least 24 people have died, many are missing, and roughly 4.9 million hectares and one thousand homes have been destroyed in New South Wales, one of the hardest-hit states. The fires have also ravaged the lands of national parks and impacted the air quality of major cities like Sydney. Here's what you can do to help.Read more
What is back burning?
While hazard reduction takes place before a fire, back burning is usually done after a fire has started as a way to reduce its spread and intensity. This is a process carried out by professional trained firefighters, and is only used if absolutely necessary.
Back burning is a strategy that involves burning strategic locations around the path of an approaching fire. These ‘counter fires’ are usually started at night or in more favourable weather conditions to reduce the chance that these fires might become dangerous and spread unchecked.
By back burning, firefighters aim to meet the fire head on and remove further fuel from its path in the hopes it will eventually die down. Back burning may also be followed by a process called ‘blacking out’, which involves creating more fires to cover any areas that may have escaped the initial back burn and still present a fire risk.
Back burning is a complicated process, and one that is inherently risky. Often, firefighters have to weigh up the ecological cost of sacrificing one area to save another, so it’s a process that requires a lot of thought, careful planning and consideration.
This fire season, it’s important to understand the difference between hazard reduction and back burning, and how these processes are helping to keep you and your community safe.
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