Nature conservation

Parks, reserves and protected areas

Preparation and hazard reduction

In order to reduce the impact of bushfires on private property and natural and cultural values, Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) maintains a level of preparedness for bushfire suppression that will allow it to mount a sufficient initial attack based on the existing and forecasted fire danger and the possibility of extreme fire conditions.

Trained staff

OEH has more than 1300 staff trained in a variety of fire fighting roles from crew members to Incident Controllers. OEH fire fighters are trained and equipped for fire fighting anywhere in Australia and in some overseas locations. OEH also has staff trained in specialist roles such as aerial fire management, remote area fire fighting and prescribed burning.

For most of these staff fire fighting is only part of their conservation work. Many are Rangers Field Officers, Technical Officers, Area and Regional Managers, Administrative personnel and Project Officers. Fire training is ongoing throughout the careers of OEH staff and OEH is working with other fire authorities in NSW and Australia to develop training courses to a national standard.

As well as having trained staff and equipment available to respond to bushfires, OEH also implements a system of early detection and hazard reduction to prepare for each fire season.

Early detection

Early detection is critical to the successful suppression of bushfires. OEH has a coordinated and comprehensive fire detection system that is implemented each year. This consists of:

  • multi-agency detection towers located in strategic points throughout the state
  • regular monitoring of lightning strike tracker systems and Bureau of Meteorology weather advice
  • deployment of observation aircraft following storms
  • regular patrols of vulnerable areas during periods of extreme fire weather.

Hazard reduction

Not all vegetation is fuel that burns. The important fuel is dead vegetation that is thinner than a pencil called fine fuels and the type of bark on trees. Fine fuels comprise surface fine fuels (leaves, fallen bark etc. in the litter layer on the ground) and elevated fine fuels (twigs, leaves and grasses just above the ground surface).

How much fuel builds up in a given area depends upon how much the local vegetation 'sheds' dead fine fuel litter and how quickly it rots. Research into the fuel accumulation and rotting rates of different vegetation communities have been used to develop fuel accumulation models. DECC uses fuel accumulation models as one of the indicators for prescribed burning.

Hazard reduction works provide areas of reduced fuel that can significantly reduce fire behaviour and aid fire suppression activities. Hazard reduction achieves the overall fuel hazard objectives of Asset Protection Zones (APZs) and Strategic Fire Advantage Zones (SFAZs) detailed in Reserve Fire Management Strategies.

Hazard reduction can be achieved in APZs via mechanical clearing, mowing, under-scrubbing or prescribed burning. Prescribed burning is the primary method of treating SFAZs.

Prescribed burning

A prescribed burn is a managed fire lit for a specific purpose and conducted according to a specific plan. A prescribed burn plan will define the control lines to contain the burn, the required fire intensity to achieve objectives, the weather and seasonal conditions required during the burning operation and the light-up methods and sequences.

The use of prescribed burning is essential to:

  • reduce overall fuel hazard to assist in the protection of life, property and community assets
  • manage biodiversity to maintain the reproductive viability of a species or a community of species
  • manage introduced species, their spread and impact on native fauna and flora
  • research fire behaviour and ecological response to fire.

2012-13 hazard reduction program

During 2012-13, NPWS achieved record levels of hazard reduction via prescribed burning. In the 12 months to 30 June 2013, fire crews carried out more than 330 hazard reduction burns covering 205,890 ha of national park - our largest ever hazard reduction program.

Maintaining fire roads and trails

In preparation for the upcoming fire season, OEH undertakes regular maintenance of internal roads and trails essential for fire fighting access. Roads and trails also provide control lines from which OEH can undertake suppression activities. Permanent fire trails are identified in bush fire management committee Bush Fire Risk Management Plans, OEH Reserve Plans of Management and Reserve Fire Management Strategies. OEH also works in collaboration with park neighbours to develop and maintain fire trails.

Community relations

Community awareness is an important component of fire management. It gives local communities input into OEH fire management and allows OEH to promote better fire management practices.

Watch our latest videos to find out more on NPWS hazard reduction program.

Park fire bans and closures

During periods of extreme fire weather the Commissioner of the Rural Fire Service may declare a Total Fire Ban. Even if a Total Fire ban has not been declared, OEH may declare a Park Fire Ban or close reserves where access is difficult or the risk top public safety has been assessed as high.

Find out more about park fire bans and park closures.

Page last updated: 07 December 2015