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An Australian first: A deep dive into our nation’s fire history, what we’ve learned, and what we can do to mitigate future impact

In response to the severity of the 2019/20 bushfire season, FWPA has taken the unprecedented step of working to collect industry insights relating to past stakeholder experiences when dealing with the impacts of large-scale bushfires.

This work aimed to extract key practical learnings to help develop a comprehensive salvage guide, as well as educational materials to better prepare the industry and community for future bushfire events.

Guidelines for salvage harvest, storage and processing of plantation-grown logs affected by fire

Braden Jenkin, Managing Director of Sylva Systems Pty. Ltd, was appointed lead author of a paper on log recovery, and tasked with interviewing industry stakeholders with previous experience of leading post-fire salvage programs.

A team led by the University of South Australia collated, analysed and summarised these insights to develop a set of guidelines for growers and processors to reference when dealing with future fire events — in particular for the salvage, storage and processing of fire-damaged logs, to minimise waste of damaged timber.

“This work has filled an important gap identified during the 2019/20 fire season, where extensive areas of Australian plantation and native forest were burnt,” said Dr Chris Lafferty.

“The purpose of the guidelines is to point out the things foresters need to be aware of in the immediate term about the salvage of logs, and the impact of time passed since the fire on wood quality.”

Alongside this work, a Technical Expert Working Group was established to review relevant literature and reports relating to previous major Australian fires and their impacts. This diverse group comprised around 25 members from all states, including representatives from softwood and hardwood plantations, and native forest managers. A collection of references based on the best available evidence was compiled to support the recommendations.

The guidelines include observations and best practice approaches, while also identifying knowledge gaps for future research efforts.

The importance of planning underpins the guidelines. Effective planning should consider the potential impact of fire on regional and national supply chains, how individual stakeholders should respond, and the steps required of external agencies, including governments. Sound, integrated fire management plans are vital and must include cooperative input from industry, government and community groups.

The guidelines around log salvage cover everything from considerations relating to plantation age and species, to structural grading of the burnt timber, and the presence of moisture and heat, which impact susceptibility to insect attack and the establishment of microbiological activity.

These and various other factors outlined in the resource will all play a role when deciding on appropriate timeframes, as well as the most effective treatment and storage methods for the burnt timber.

Knowledge conservation

As part of this project, FWPA also developed a database capturing historical information about larger-scale Australian plantation fire losses. Australian forest growers supported this work by providing data on fire loss for events where 100 ha or more was burnt, with information dating as far back as the early 1920s.

The literature review and past experiences will allow for industry technical managers to develop a deeper understanding of the data used to inform the guidelines.

“As a comprehensive body of work, the like of which has never been undertaken before in Australia, we are confident we have successfully built a knowledge base that will assist with risk management and strategic planning for fire events in the future,” said Lafferty.

It is envisaged the guidelines will be reviewed in advance of the 2021/22 fire season, to capture any additional knowledge arising from the most recent salvage, storage and processing of fire damaged timber. As such the knowledge within the document represents the best available at the time of its preparation.

“The foremost takeaway from the preparation of this document has been that fire incidents are not unforeseeable occurrences in Australia. Rather fires will continue to occur, maybe even more frequently and intensely,” said Lafferty.

“The impacts therefore need to be strategically planned for at an organisational and collective level, to anticipate the likely responses required and minimise the adverse effects.”

Posted Date: April 27, 2021

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