Activities to reduce bushfire risk
Forest Fire Management Victoria’s fuel management program – and all activities it undertakes to reduce bushfire risk – are designed to meet the bushfire management objectives outlined in the Code of Practice for Bushfire Management on Public Land 2012:
- To minimise the impact of major bushfires on human life, communities, essential and community infrastructure, industries, the economy and the environment. Human life will be afforded priority over all other considerations.
- To maintain or improve the resilience of natural ecosystems and their ability to deliver services such as biodiversity, water, carbon storage and forest products.
Strategic bushfire management planning
In 2018–19 FFMVic and its partner agencies, including CFA, local government and Regional Strategic Fire Management Committees, undertook a strategic bushfire management planning process. The purpose of this planning process was to establish a shared understanding of risk across the fire management sector, based upon the most-up-to-date science available and the extensive knowledge that exists within agencies and community. Throughout the process there was an emphasis on strengthening partnerships and providing opportunities for community involvement in decision-making about bushfire management in the landscape. This work brought together existing plans, strategies and understanding of risk and resulted in the delivery of six tenure-blind bushfire management strategies to focus the sector’s work in each of the six regions.
The strategies were developed through extensive engagement with the community. This allows approaches tailored to the unique values in a landscape that are identified in partnership with stakeholders and the community. The strategies identified objectives around human, cultural and environmental values and guide how regional committees and agencies strategically plan for values protection through management of bushfire risk and inform the Joint Fuel Management Program (JFMP). The implementation of the strategies will occur through the JFMP and other opportunities, including education and engagement with communities.
Although this planning process focussed on fuel management, there are many other bushfire management actions that also contribute to reducing bushfire risk. A variety of agencies also undertake critical work before, during and after bushfires that contribute to reducing the risk of bushfires to people, homes and other values
Fuel management is just one strategy for reducing bushfire risk. Fuel management includes planned burning (lighting and managing planned fires in the landscape at times of the year when bushfire risk is lower) and mechanical treatment (mowing, slashing, mulching and using herbicides). For fuel management purposes, public land in Victoria is classified into four Fire Management Zones:
- Asset Protection Zone (APZ): an area around properties and infrastructure where we intensively manage fuel to provide localised protection to reduce radiant heat and ember attack on life and property in the event of a bushfire
- Bushfire Moderation Zone (BMZ): an area around properties and infrastructure where we manage fuel to reduce the speed and intensity of bushfires and to protect nearby assets, particularly from ember attack in the event of a bushfire
- Landscape Management Zone (LMZ): an area where we manage fuel to minimise the impact of major bushfires, to improve ecosystem resilience and for other purposes (such as to regenerate forests and protect water catchments)
- Planned Burning Exclusion Zone (PBEZ): an area where we try to avoid planned burning, mainly because ecological assets in this zone cannot tolerate fire.
Fire operations planning
During winter 2018, FFMVic and the CFA undertook a joint planning process to prepare the inaugural Joint Fuel Management Program (JFMP). The JFMP is a shared program of fuel management activities on public and private land for the coming three years, and it is updated annually. The JFMP replaces the fire operations planning process, and the Chief Fire Officer approved it in November 2018.
The JFMP sets out a schedule of works and planned burns to reduce fuel and thus bushfire risk. Fire Management Zones in the context of current fire history (from recent bushfires and planned burns) is a key driver of the JFMP. These considerations enable prioritisation of actions on the JFMP to reduce bushfire risk to communities and other values. The JFMP includes all planned fuel management activities: planned burning, slashing, mowing and clearing works.
Fuel management activities
Planned burning can only be carried out when the weather and fuel conditions allow it to be done safely. The 2018–19 year was one of Victoria’s hottest and driest years on record, and drought and bad fire conditions gripped most of the state well into April 2019.
Autumn 2019 was a very challenging season for planned burning: there were very dry conditions and periods of high fire danger through March and most of April. Planned burning started later than normal due to the unfavourable weather and fuel conditions and to bushfire suppression operations, which restricted the available burn windows during March and April. Many high-priority burns are close to communities and in forested areas with limited burn windows, so the late start further reduced the narrow burn window.
When opportunities did arise, we prioritised for burning areas where we could achieve the greatest risk reduction and for which we had the right conditions for burning. In all, we carried out 31 of 76 high-priority burns.
The planned burning season extended later than usual in some areas, with burns being undertaken throughout May and into June, thanks to unseasonably warm, dry conditions.
The season was ultimately characterised as very challenging, limited and interspersed with high-fire-risk periods, and there were some welcome late-autumn opportunities. Despite this, we maintained bushfire risk below the 70% state target by prioritising burns that resulted in the greatest reductions in risk.
Table 1 and Table 2 show key statistics about our activities, including fuel management, to keep bushfire risk below 70% for Victoria.
Table 1: Burn planning, site preparation and fuel reduction activities statewide, 2018–19
Bushfire risk target for Victoria at all times
Bushfire risk for Victoria in 2018–19
Burn planning and site preparation
Approved burn plan area (ha)
Planned burn field site preparation completed (ha)
Area treated by planned burning: 130,044 ha (251 burns)
By fire management zones:
By planned burn type:
Area treated by other fuel management methods
Total area treated to reduce bushfire risk
Table 2: Cross-tenure planned burns, 2018–19*
Number of burns
Barwon South West
* These planned burns are part or wholly on private property within 1.5 km of public land.
Planned Burns Victoria is a new opt-in system for people interested in knowing about planned burns in a certain area. The website allows individuals to customise alerts to suit their particular notification needs. The system sends out notifications when a planned burn in Victoria is close to being ignited in nominated areas.
Planned burn breaches
What is a planned burn breach of control lines?
A planned burn is considered to have breached control lines if it spreads beyond the area designated in the burn plan, cannot be readily controlled with on-site or planned resources and compromises the burn objectives.
A planned burn that has breached control lines is classified as a breach or a bushfire, depending on its extent and its effect on the community or the environment.
A breach is likely to be controlled within reasonable timeframes for fire response and does not pose a significant threat to or have a significant effect on assets or the community. As part of our continuous improvement processes, we review all breaches.
A bushfire is declared when the breach of control lines threatens or is likely to threaten public safety or private assets and is likely to have a greater impact on the environment. We will conduct an investigation if a bushfire occurs.
The Inspector-General for Emergency Management is notified of all breaches of control lines and may conduct an independent investigation of a resulting bushfire.
Planned burn breaches 2018–19
In 2018–19, a total of 251 planned burns were carried out across the state. Two of these — about 0.8% of all burns — went beyond control lines and were declared breaches, with one additional burn — 0.4% of all burns — breaching control lines and being declared a bushfire. All three of these breaches of control lines spread onto surrounding public land, and no private property was threatened or affected.
A 16.5 ha planned burn was ignited for regeneration purposes in the Big River State Forest on 14 April 2019. As is customary for this type of burn, a convection column was established which supported effective control of the fire during the ignition and initial combustion phases, but the column collapsed and the fire spread beyond the control line and extended slowly into the adjacent forest. We attempted to control the fire by bulldozer, but could not do so effectively because of the steep, difficult terrain.
We constructed a control line around the slowly spreading fire over subsequent days, and the breach remained within the designated contingency area, burning a total of 21 ha at low intensity. We assessed the impact of the breach as low, and fully closed and rehabilitated the control line.
A 27.3 ha planned burn was ignited for regeneration purposes in the Latrobe State Forest on 13 April 2019. Some minor spotovers occurred with the burn (which had benign fire behaviour) and were not safely accessible at night.
The following day, we controlled one spotover by a control line, and it presented no further issues. Another spotover was in more-difficult terrain, and we could only partly construct a control line. The remainder of the spotover was contained by damp fuel. Aerial monitoring indicated the control strategy of using damp fuel to hold the spotover was working. Hazardous trees in the area prevented firefighters from safely extinguishing all burning material.
An ongoing trend of drying conditions and increased winds persisted, and seven days after ignition the fire kindled and started to spread, reaching some stringybark trees within the contingency area bounded by a wet gully. High wind speeds overnight resulted in burning embers being thrown across the wet gully and igniting a fresh fire on 21 April 2019, which required us to construct a control line.
This bushfire burnt 51 ha. We assessed the consequences as minor and fully closed and rehabilitated the control line. Because part of the breach was outside the contingency area and required additional resources, we classified it as a bushfire.
A 29 ha planned burn was ignited for regeneration purposes in the Tanjil State Forest on 16 May 2019. The burn ignition phase went as planned.
Over subsequent days, we routinely patrolled the burn to monitor and manage any control issues. During this period, the surrounding forest fuel continued to dry, and the winds at the site increased beyond those in the weather forecast. In the days before the breach, we increased burn patrols and control activities to account for the higher fire danger indices due to the increased winds.
Early in the morning of 24 May 2019, fire activity was reported, and firefighters responded to find the burn had breached control lines due to embers being fanned and blown by very strong winds. The embers were most likely from stumps well within the burn area. The breach burnt 10 ha. We assessed the impact as low, and we fully closed and rehabilitated the control lines.
Forest Fire Management Victoria responded to 2,072 fires affecting 218,484 ha of public land in the 2018–19 bushfire season.
This is 163% — 1,284 fires — above the 30-year annual average number of fires and 35% — 56,691 ha — above the long-term average for the total area burnt.
FFMVic contained 94% of these fires to less than 5 ha: above the performance target of 80%.
The bushfire season started early in Victoria with numerous fires starting in Gippsland, one of which required the evacuation of the Parks Victoria camping facility at Cape Conran in late August 2018.
The bushfire season intensified from January 2019 with a heatwave across Victoria, and it continued right through to March with a major fire in Bunyip State Park. That fire resulted in 29 homes being destroyed, damage to a further two residential properties and 67 outbuildings/sheds destroyed.
The bushfire season saw 15 campaign fires — fires greater than 1,000 ha — that FFMVic was responsible for managing. The most significant of those fires were on public land at:
- Licola – Mt Margaret Track (80,579 ha)
- Mt Darling – Cynthia Range Track (28,790 ha)
- Nunnett – Timbarra (22,705 ha)
- Gembrook – Helmet Track (Bunyip) (15,596 ha)
- Mayford – Truckalong Spur (14,053 ha)
- Rosedale (12,418 ha)
- Walhalla Stony Creek Road (8,775 ha)
- Thomson – Thomson Jordan Divide (6,411 ha).
Unattended campfires represented 51% of all ignition sources. Of the bushfires that occurred in 2018–19, 12% have resulted from unattended campfires, and 25% were the result of lightning strikes.
To prepare for the bushfire season, FFMVic employed 640 project firefighters — 40 more than the normal base-level intake — and started them early in high-risk areas. This brought the total number of forest firefighters to 2,814 including front-line and incident-management personnel.
As at 28 March, FFMVic staff had undertaken 4,987 incident management team shifts for the bushfire season. This was 74.4% of all shifts across the emergency management sector.
FFMVic is an important part of the national and international forest firefighting community. We assist and are assisted by our colleagues from interstate and overseas.
In the 2018–19 bushfire season, resources from New Zealand and from New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and Queensland supported the firefighting effort in Victoria. In all, 679 firefighters and incident management staff came from across Australia and New Zealand to support us.
Throughout the year, when it could be done without exposing Victoria to risk, FFMVic provided incident management specialists and firefighters to British Columbia, Canada and California, USA. We also provided firefighters, incident management staff and specialist risk assessment teams to Queensland, and we provided aviation services and logistical support to Tasmania.
Fuel management investment
Table 3 shows that the investment of the entire fuel management program in 2018–19 was $121.7 million. Of this, direct fuel management investment was $18.2 million and indirect fuel management investment was $103.4 million. This figure is in addition to costs of $312.8 million for other non-fuel-management activities including fire and emergency response, recovery, prevention and preparedness activities (not shown in the table).
Table 3: Fuel management investment, by region and group, 2018–19
Barwon South West
Forest & Fire Operations Directorate
Total Forest & Fire Operations Division
Infrastructure & Resources Division (IRD)
Policy & Planning Division (PPD)
Total IRD and PPD
Table 4 shows a breakdown of indirect fuel management investments. The table shows that the largest cost items were resource management and equipment and infrastructure.
Table 4: Indirect fuel management investment, by item cost, 2018–19
% indirect costs
Equipment and infrastructure
Monitoring, evaluation and reporting
As well as paying for planning, preparing and conducting planned burning, the amounts in Table 3 and Table 4 also paid to:
- implement the Safer Together program and the transition towards a risk-based approach to fuel management
- maintain roads and fire breaks and update access for the first attack on fires
- increase staff capability and mobility with standby and overtime pay, training and medicals and to move taskforces around the state
- provide more equipment and vehicles to support field activities
- improve engagement with stakeholders through roundtables and other forums.
In 2017–18 we made some changes to the method used to calculating the direct and indirect fuel management expenditure. An outline of these changes can be seen at Data and model output improvements.
Page last updated: 23/12/20