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Reducing the Australian Bushfire Risk

September 18, 2020

3 Firefighters Battling NSW Bushfire


Summertime in Australia is known for its sunny days and high temperatures.

While the long periods of hot, dry weather provide individuals with an incredible summer experience – such as going to beaches, hosting BBQ’s, enjoying the great outdoors, to name a few – it also has certain drawbacks, including the potential for bushfires.

Considering the drought prone climatic conditions in Australia, bushfires are a naturally occurring phenomenon, especially in the Eastern and South Eastern parts of the country.

Despite being an intrinsic part of the environment, a number of property owners remain reluctant to reduce their bushfire risk and fire agencies often lack the resources to fully prepare for the summer ahead.

Reducing the Bushfire Risk

Every year, especially during the summer, the country experiences bushfires, often severe, sometimes catastrophic.

The timing and intensity of the Australian bushfires in 2020 were unprecedented, affecting more than 46 million hectares of land, private holdings, farms, forests and parks across the country -especially in New South Wales and Victoria.

With many areas of Australia in drought and some in drought-declared areas, a severe bushfire season is likely to occur again. To lessen the risk of a fire occurring and minimize the spread of bushfires, here are some of the things that can be done to prepare, before the bushfire season kicks in.

1. Reducing Forest Fuel Loads by Prescribed Burning

Fine fuels are the combustible biomass that can be found on the forest floor and this includes everything from grasses, leaf matter and pine duff to small twigs and branches. The moisture levels contained in this biomass are a critical indicator of whether the forest will be able to be ignited and indeed sustain a prescribed burn. Likewise the moisture content of the biomass along with temperature, wind speed and wind direction, on the day are all key indicators of whether it is safe to undertake a prescribed burn or not. This creates what is a small window of opportunity for prescribed burning.

Keeping in mind that raw materials for any potential bushfire are the presence of all fuels, including:

  • grass
  • leaves
  • twigs
  • logs and stumps
  • dead bushes and trees
  • live bushes and trees

The volume of this fuel is referred to as the fuel-load, this is also a critical factor in the potential intensity of bushfire and poses a significant risk.

Prescribed burning is one of the only practical fuel reduction treatments. It is used for reducing combustible material and the risk of intense summer bushfires. Prescribed burning minimises the fuel-load and as a result the potential risks and hazards. Saving forest assets, property destruction & damage. Protecting the urban interface, potentially saving homes, businesses and of course, saving wildlife. However, the most important thing, potentially saving lives.

Fire is not all bad, cold burns, the type of burn achieved during the window of opportunity by prescribed burning, helps enormously in maintaining the biodiversity, including wildlife, in all areas of Australia, particularly in strategic areas of Australia’s parks and reserves.

Here are some of the basic principles of fuel reduction:

  • Lessening fuels loads,
  • Reducing surface litter, the biomass fuels,
  • Thinning out for aerial fuels—Dead trees & limbs, live foliage and branches; fuels that are not in contact with the ground.
  • When assessing the bushfire risk, consider the location, access, the fuel load, including the amount of surface litter and aerial fuels in the area.

2. Prescribed Fire Project Challenges

Here are some of the crucial things you need to know to consider to minimize the risk of summer bushfire:

  • A narrow window of opportunity for safe burning,
  • Lighting any fire, particularly in a forest or urban interface, poses a significant risk
  • In some instances, prescribed burns can get out of control and turn into bushfires,
  • If the Australian bush, if Prescribed Fire Projects & Acreage Burned, are not maximized, the summer bushfire risk is increased.

3. Forest Fuel Moisture Content

Also known as FMC, the Fuel Moisture Content is a vital fuel property for assessing bushfire hazard, as it influences fuel flammability and fire behaviour. Therefore, forest fuel moisture plays a significant role in bushfire, fire behaviour.

FMC is a substantial issue for fire controllers and managers even private plantation and property owners, as it helps in the probability of ignition, the forward rate of spread, rate of combustion, fire intensity, and the success of forwarding spotting. The higher the FMC the higher the benefits, it has:

  • A cooling effect on the fire,
  • Reduces radiative heat transfer,
  • Absorbs heat through latent moisture vaporisation,
  • Heat yield decreases,
  • Ignition becomes more difficult.

4. Key Factors – Knowledge & Control

  • Wind speed & direction,
  • Prevailing & forecast weather conditions,
  • The moisture content of forest fine fuels & duff,
  • The overall fuel load.

These factors combine to provide Fire Managers with critical knowledge & control when lighting Prescribed Fires or Fighting Bushfires.

Wiltronics Fine Fuel Moisture Meter

Wiltronics “Fine Fuel Moisture Meter”

When it comes to predicting fire behaviour, calculating the moisture content of the fine fuels on the forest floor is essential. The drier the fuels are, the more the fire spread, fire line intensity, and fuel consumption are likely to increase.

At Wiltronics, in Ballarat Victoria, we offer a better way of Measuring Fine Fuel Moisture Content with a cost-effective tool that helps to reduce the risk and/or the intensity of Bushfires. Our very own Fine Fuel Moisture Meter is a perfect companion for fire managers and controllers, making their job at a proposed prescribed burn site or ahead of the fire front on a live wildfire, a lot easier. This tool can measure fine fuel moisture content quickly and accurately.

The Wiltronics Fine Fuel Moisture Meter ME2000A is specifically designed to be used in the field by officers involved in prescribed burns and wildfires. At the same time, it provides valuable moisture measurements to assist in determining the burn rate of forest fuels.

1. Why do you need this moisture measurement device?

The Wiltronics Fine Fuel Moisture Meter is essential in helping fire managers determine the percentage of moisture content of fine fuels.

The use of this tool and the information it provides will helps them establish the rate at which fires will spread and how likely spot fires will develop.

This vital FFMC information, along with current wind speed, direction and forecast weather conditions, these all need to be taken into account when planning a prescribed burn or fighting live wildfires.

The Fine Fuel Moisture Meter has been tested and approved by the ‘Centre for Forest Tree Technology’. It has been used and proven by fire agencies Australia wide.

2. Why choose the Wiltronics FFMM?

  • A cost-effective tool that helps to reduce the risk of bushfires,
  • Quickly, accurately and reliably provides moisture content, readings of forest biomass, surface fine fuels,
  • It is the only device designed for the Australian fuel types,
  • It’s technology has been used across Australia for many years,
  • Wiltronics has sold 1000+ devices to users in Australia.

3. Service & Maintenance

Wiltronics is providing a full on-demand servicing and an annual scheduled maintenance service from its Ballarat workshop

4. Accessories and Spares

Spare parts are readily available, this may not be a big thing at first until you need them in an urgent situation. Be it complete spare tools or other spare parts inventory, these are critical items, and having them on hand is key to keeping your forest fuel material handling system at the ready.

Our Fine Fuel Moisture Meter comes with accessories that are essential, especially when you’re on-site. Spare parts are also available for purchase, check them out below.

5. Assessing & Measuring Moisture Content

Other fine fuel and moisture determination methods include:

  • Collection of samples and Oven Drying – resource intense, slow, and time-consuming.
  • Computer Prediction – these are regionally based and are generally unable to account for localised factors.
  • Pre-distribution, collection, and weighing of Fuel Moisture Sticks – resource intense, slow, and time-consuming, all-up costs can be significant.

The Wiltronics ME2000A Fine Fuel Moisture Meter is:

  • Fully portable,
  • Easy to use,
  • Fast-result within minutes,
  • Accurate,
  • Designed for Australian Fuel types
  • Designed and manufactured in Australia and
  • Designed for Australian conditions

© Wiltronics Research Pty Ltd 2020

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