The 2019–2020 Australian forest fires are a harbinger of decreased prescribed burning effectiveness under rising extreme conditions
There is an imperative for fire agencies to quantify the potential for prescribed burning to mitigate risk to life, property and environmental values while facing changing climates. The 2019–2020 Black Summer fires in eastern Australia raised questions about the effectiveness of prescribed burning in mitigating risk under unprecedented fire conditions. We performed a simulation experiment to test the effects of different rates of prescribed burning treatment on risks posed by wildfire to life, property and infrastructure. In four forested case study landscapes, we found that the risks posed by wildfire were substantially higher under the fire weather conditions of the 2019–2020 season, compared to the full range of long-term historic weather conditions. For area burnt and house loss, the 2019–2020 conditions resulted in more than a doubling of residual risk across the four landscapes, regardless of treatment rate (mean increase of 230%, range 164–360%). Fire managers must prepare for a higher level of residual risk as climate change increases the likelihood of similar or even more dangerous fire seasons.
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NSW Department of Planning,Industry and Environment