Activities to reduce bushfire risk
Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic)’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.
Fuel management delivery in 2020-21
Fuel management activities
Fuel and weather conditions were favourable for the delivery of planned burns from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021- all year. Additionally, a wet and quiet bushfire season enabled firefighters to focus on burning earlier in autumn that, combined with suitable weather and fuel conditions, saw the peak program start in early February and continue through to early May. A longer-than-normal autumn burning period provided more opportunities to carry out challenging burns near high-risk communities and to maximise the total number of burns. Significant rainfall during early March brought fuels to a suitable condition to start large landscape management burns in the bigger parcels of forest and parks across the state. A drier-than-average April and May provided opportunities for the program to continue through to June, particularly in the west of Victoria.
The combination of favourable weather conditions and higher soil moisture levels supported an increased planned burn program, with reduction in fire intensities and operational risk.
During 2020–21, 152,083 hectares of land was treated, compared to an average of 150,000 hectares over the previous eight years (2012–13 to 2019–20, the period for which planned burning and mechanical treatment have been recorded). However, while the number of hectares treated aligned to an average season, the number of burns ignited, and priority burns completed was up significantly on past years. Over the previous eight years, FFMVic delivered an average of 275 fuel reduction and ecological burns annually, compared to 2020–21 when we completed 331 fuel reduction and ecological burns. Further, we completed 74 per cent of priority planned burns (104 of 141). These burns are often difficult to carry out, due to limited weather opportunities for burning or burns being in challenging locations, such as very close to population centres or in high-risk settings.
Planned burn ignitions
The figure below shows the number of planned burns (prescribed and regeneration) ignited per day across 2020–21. FFMVic continues to identify when conditions are favourable and take every opportunity to complete planned burning, including during the winter months. Although conditions were suitable for burning in all months during 2020–21, the opportunities were targeted and small. Between 80-90 per cent of the planned burning program continues to be delivered in the late summer and autumn period when conditions are typically more stable, fire behaviour is generally more manageable and predictable, there is lower risk of extreme fire danger days, and the fuel conditions are appropriate to achieving the desired objective.
Number of ignitions of prescribed and regeneration burns during 2020-21
Planned burn delays
During 2020–21, FFMVic began capturing the reasons we rescheduled a planned burn if it was within three days of planned ignition and ignition did not proceed, or we postponed it.
During 2020–21, we ignited 470 burns of which:
- 111 burns were ignited the first time we scheduled them
- 359 burns were scheduled for ignition, but we delayed or rescheduled them multiple times before being ignited later in 2020–21
In addition, 15 burns were scheduled for ignition, but we did not ignite them in 2020–21.
Table 1 summarises the factors that influenced decisions to reschedule burns.
FFMVic will continue to improve the information we capture during burn planning, scheduling, and operational delivery for the 2021–22 fuel management report.
Table 1: Factors influencing delay of planned burn ignitions
|Factors influencing the delivery of burns||Number of planned ignitions||Proportion %|
|Weather conditions not suitable||255||44.0%|
|Fuel moisture not suitable||235||40.6%|
|Environment, community, stakeholder related||11||1.9%|
|Other operational constraints||6||1.0%|
In determining whether a planned burn can be ignited, an assessment is made of the fuel moisture levels at the site and the predicted weather conditions over the coming week (or longer depending on the characteristics of the burn). This information, combined with details about the vegetation type, topography, previous fire and rainfall history and the environmental, cultural, and built values associated with the site, help to determine if it is safe to ignite the planned burn. Planned burns may be delayed if the weather forecast for the days and weeks following the scheduled ignition date increase the risk of being able to keep the burn contained to the planned footprint.
Insufficient resource availability can occur when conditions are favourable for conducting planned burns state-wide and numerous burns are scheduled for the same period. Under these circumstances the supporting resources required to ensure all planned burns that could be undertaken during that window may not be available. In these circumstances, those burns that will deliver or contribute to the greatest reduction in bushfire risk are prioritised. Changing conditions, such as localised areas of high rainfall, storms, and floods, may result in changes to local area risk profiles and particular burns may be re-prioritised to reflect the changes to these risk levels.
FFMVic works closely with communities and stakeholders when planning the implementation of the JFMP. There are some occasions when a planned burn can be delayed for a short period without comprising FFMVic’s ability to safely deliver the burn and achieve the intended risk reduction outcomes. Delaying a burn under these conditions to enable a vigneron to complete their harvest or an important local event to be held without disruption is something FFMVic will carefully consider. Where delaying the burn would compromise safety or the ability to achieve the objectives of the burn then FFMVic will not delay delivery.
Recognising community concerns about potential increased levels of smoke generated by planned burning operations interacting with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020–21, FFMVic worked closely with communities, stakeholders, and other government agencies, including the Environment Protection Authority and the Department of Health, to ensure we minimised the impacts of planned burns on communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic also affected on-ground planned burning operations, but FFMVic put procedures in place that ensured we acted on every opportunity for conducting planned burning within those constraints, including safe systems to mitigate COVID-19 risks to staff.
The number of firefighting crews that worked outside their home district or region (to assist others) was reduced in comparison to other years. This also delayed some burn planning and onsite preparation work for burns.
Planned burns were conducted in all regions, including in many high-bushfire-risk areas such as the Otway Ranges, the Grampians, Anglesea, around Macedon, Reefton, Daylesford, Ballarat, Bendigo, and St Arnaud.
When conditions were not suitable for planned burning, FFMVic teams undertook mechanical fuel treatments, such as slashing, mowing and mulching, continued preparation of strategic fuel breaks, maintained tracks and roads, and manage hazardous trees to enable safe, rapid access firefighting. The figure below shows that mechanical fuel treatments totalled 18,888 ha, an increase on previous years, and demonstrating a trend of increased effort by FFMVic to ensure we can undertake fuel management year-round.
Comparison of total area treated by non-burn fuel treatments 2017–18 to 2020–21
Table 2 shows key statistics about our fuel management activities that kept bushfire risk below 70% for Victoria.
Table 2: Fuel management activities, Victoria, 2020–21
Statewide bushfire risk at or below
Bushfire risk for Victoria in 2020–21
Area planned for treatment for the 2020-21 year
The area planned for treatment is a chief fire officer directive representing the total area in hectares of land parcels we have completed operational fuel management planning for, and subsequently incorporated into our rolling operational plan - the Joint Fuel Management Program (JFMP). Regions select the parcels in line with regional bushfire management strategies, taking into account recent fire history, while also allowing for flexibility to respond to changing conditions.
Area treated by planned burning
133,195 hectares (470 burns)
By fire management zones:
By planned burn type:
Area treated by non-burn fuel treatments
18,888 hectares (1,963 treatments)
By treatment types:
Total area treated to reduce bushfire risk
* FFMVic is a land manager, with bushfire risk being one target, currently set at 70%. Bushfire management strategies outline the many outcomes of the fuel management program. Activities such as the number of burns and hectares planned for treatment are not targets but illustrate the scale of work funded to achieve the outcomes of bushfire management strategies.
To deliver the Victorian government’s Safer Together policy, FFMVic works with the Country Fire Authority and local government to support integrated fuel management across all land tenures. Table 3 shows that FFMVic, in these partnerships, led 37 cross-tenure planned burn operations during 2020–21, including on large areas of private land.
Table 3: Cross-tenure planned burns, 2020-21
Number of burns
Barwon South West
Planned burn breaches
Of the total 470 planned burns conducted one resulted in a breach of a control line, in a remote area of the Big Desert Wilderness Park, in March 2021. While there were costs associated with suppressing the breach, there were no community impacts or adverse environmental consequences of the breach. FFMVic led a breach investigation team that included a representative of the Inspector-General for Emergency Management. The breach burnt 767 hectares (or about 0.1 per cent) of the 730,736 hectares Southern Mallee sub-landscape. This area contains three fire-dependant vegetation communities, and no threatened flora or fauna species were affected.
During 2020–21, FFMVic provided operational and planning support to Traditional Owner groups across Victoria to plan and undertake 15 cultural burns. These are in addition the planned burning conducted for fuel management. While cultural burns may reduce bushfire risk, the objectives of cultural burns are varied and are defined by the Traditional Owners leading the burn.
Table 4 shows the total area and number of Traditional Owner cultural burns completed in 2020–21.
Traditional Owners have a strong interest in burning, and we expect the number of cultural burns to increase in 2021–22.
Table 4: Traditional Owner cultural burns, 2020–21
Number of burns
Barwon South West
FFMVic acknowledges the diversity of ways Traditional Owner groups want to use cultural fire and to participate in land management. To help maintain the implementation of the Victorian Traditional Owner Cultural Fire Strategy, we continued to build partnerships with Traditional Owner groups to deliver cultural burning on public land. We also supported Traditional Owner groups across the state to build capacity in a variety of ways.
For example, following many months of planning, Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung Traditional Owners and the FFMVic crew in the Port Phillip region delivered a planned burn at Brimbank Park in April 2021. Wurundjeri were involved in all aspects from planning the burn, to the review of known values, attendance at the burn, and a follow-up, post-burn survey.
During the survey, several hundred stone artefacts and two very rare glass artefacts were located, providing evidence of what was possibly a large quarry or habitation site or both. To continue this joint management approach, Parks Victoria will be engaging the Wurundjeri Narrap Natural Resource Management team to undertake weed eradication works at the site.
Moving forward, FFMVic will continue to build partnerships that provide more land management opportunities to Traditional Owner groups and support them in ways that are meaningful to their people.
Sample of artefacts discovered during a post-burn survey of a cultural burn in the Port Philip region. Photo credit: Melanie Anderson, DELWP
Fuel management investment
FFMVic invested a total of $155.8 million on fuel management in 2020–21. This was an increase in expenditure from 2019–20, primarily due to the extended planned burning program, supported by the extension of contracts for project firefighters integral to delivering the program. The $155.8 million cost includes $10.05 Million for the strategic fuel breaks program.
Table 5 and Table 6 provide breakdowns of this investment by region, DELWP group, and type of investment. Direct investment totalled $42.4 million, with indirect investment totalling $113.4 million.
The cost of the fuel management program in 2020–21 was predominantly associated with resource management ($50 million), and equipment and infrastructure ($21.3 million), both of which are considered indirect costs. Appendix A summarises year-on-year costs.
Table 5: Fuel management investment, by region and group, 2020–21
Barwon South West
Forest & Fire Operations Directorate
Total Forest & Fire Operations Division
Infrastructure & Resources Division (IRD)
Policy & Planning Division (PPD)
Total IRD and PPD
Total fuel management investment
Table 6: Indirect fuel management investment, 2020–21
% of indirect investment
Equipment and infrastructure
Monitoring, evaluation, and reporting
Native vegetation framework
Total indirect investment
Total fuel management investment
Page last updated: 23/12/21