On a warm sunny Monday, 5 October 2015, a fire broke out late afternoon at Wensleydale on private land – in an area full of fuel, including trees up to 10-15 metres tall with long unburnt stringy bark and a heathy understory of tall shrubbery.

The warm day with moderate winds pushed the fire up trees of over ten-meters tall and through the tall shrubs, making direct attack extremely difficult for firefighters due to the sheer height and intensity of the fire.

However, a nearby 2011 planned burn and a 2015 planned burn greatly decreased the fuel available for the fire – reducing its intensity and rate of spread –  enabling fire crews to contain the blaze, potentially saving both property and life.

  • The 2011 burn meant the fire was unable to climb the blackened tree trunks, resulting in little to no spot-fires starting and only a minimal amount of ground fuel available to be ignited –  which made suppression by ground crews safe and efficient.
  • The 2015 burn left only elevated bark high on the trees, meaning there was virtually no fuel available to carry the fire.

These planned burns form part of the Barwon Otway Strategic Bushfire Management Plan, which prioritises the reduction of fuel hazards to reduce bushfire risk to communities and the environment.

DELWP’s fire modelling software Phoenix RapidFire was used to predict a fire’s spread with the same point of ignition and weather conditions but without planned burns.

While the actual extent of damage from the fire was 11 hectares, Phoenix RapidFire show that without planned burning 18,000 hectares could have been burnt – including a significant portion of the heritage listed Anglesea Health, the Alcoa coal mine and the parts of the Anglesea and Aireys Inlet townships.

Routine planned burning performed by highly skilled Forest Fire Management and CFA crews is a vital fuel reduction activity proven to reduce the severity, size and extent of bushfires.

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