Fire and soils

Fire is an important part of many Australian landscapes, and has been for many thousands, even millions of years.

Consideration of the soil resource is a key component in all aspects of fire management, from burn planning through to post-fire monitoring.

Impact of fire on soils and landscape

Fire can affect:

  • soil erosion from hillslopes and streambanks
  • sedimentation of streams
  • availability and cycling of nutrients and carbon in the soil
  • water quantity and quality from burnt catchments

Fire can also impact aquatic ecosystems, fauna habitats, flooding, roads and other infrastructure.

Type and extent of changes

The type and extent of these changes will depend on the fire regime, including: fire severity; fire frequency; the burn season; weather conditions; and the spatial pattern of the burn.

There are significant differences between the effects of high intensity wildfire versus low intensity burns, including prescribed hazard reduction (HR) burns. High intensity wildfire may result in massive soil erosion, major siltation of streams, nutrient losses and long-term impacts on catchments.

However, the possible impacts of prescribed HR fire on soil-related issues such as nutrient cycling, soil erosion and sedimentation, and effects on water quantity and quality, are not fully understood.

Review on the current state of knowledge

Fire and soils, a well-referenced literature review (PDF, 1.6MB), summarises the current state of knowledge on the impacts of fire on soils, focusing on the Australian context. The report outlines the potential impacts of different fire regimes on soil erosion and sedimentation, nutrient and carbon cycling, and water quantity and quality.

Page last updated: 26 August 2016