Learning to burn in the far west

On the weekend of 16-17 June District 17 hosted its first ever burn camp.

Operations Officer Craig Brittain opened the Burn Camp which was held at the Little Desert Lodge near Nhill.  Craig thanked the volunteers and staff for giving up their valuable time to attend, and spoke about the importance of planned burning and the skills and knowledge that our members gain from being involved in it.

28 Volunteers from districts 6, 7, 8, 16 and 17 were provided with 2 days of instruction and hands on learning. 

Camp organisers trialled a new approach to learning based on team based activities.  Participants were divided into four teams.  Each team had a staff member as mentor, and a trainee burn controller who was responsible for coming up with a burn plan for a small block.   

Following morning briefing at the Little Desert Lodge participants travelled to the burn blocks on 119 hectares of private bushland adjacent to cropping county near the Little Desert National Park.  After site familiarisation, participants moved off in their teams to take fuel moisture readings, perform a risk assessment and assist the burn controller with the preparation of the burn plan.  Burns were conducted in the early afternoon.

Weather conditions over the weekend limited the time available to burn.  However “the experience of different vegetation types and burning conditions provided participants with valuable insights on the wetting and drying of fuels and how this influences fire behaviour” said Senior Instructor Roger Strickland.

Participants were also given an overview of how biodiversity values are considered in planned burns by CFA’s Biodiversity Advisor, Justine Leahy.  “Many Australian plants respond positively to fire and some need fire” said Justine.  “In my role of assessing CFA planned burns - none have been stopped due to biodiversity considerations.  Even with threatened species sometimes all we have to do is change the timing of the burn or the shape of the burn boundary”. 

Out on the job Burn Camp participants were also shown some of unusual features of the desert vegetation including old Desert Banksias awaiting fire to trigger the next generation of plants.  Spotted also were colonies of orchids and carnivorous plants that had just emerged from the sand and would flower in spring this year, long after the winter burn.

Weather permitting we’ll be back at this site over the next few years to complete the burning program” says Vegetation Management Officer Ian Morrison.  “Running a Burn Camp at these sites provides a great setting for learning about fire in the west of the state”.

Author: Owen Gooding