Council action

hazard reduction

Bushfire protection is a shared responsibility for both property owners and land management agencies. Bushfire preparedness involves both the prevention and suppression of bushfires at the landscape scale and assets including homes being maintained in a manner that they are defendable in a bushfire. Council is involved in both strategic planning and delivering operational programs to manage bushfire risk on its land.

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Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Bus Fire Management Committee (BFMC)

The BFMC plans bushfire hazard reduction works and is comprised of representatives from Ku-ring-gai and Hornsby Councils, NSW Rural Fire Service, NSW Fire and Rescue, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and other land managers, emergency services and utility managers

They also develop a Bush Fire Risk Management Plan (BFRMP), which is updated every five years. This identifies the “assets” within the district, categorises those assets based on the level of bushfire risk faced and sets out a broad plan for prioritised bushfire risk management works including hazard reduction burning, Asset Protection Zone and fire trail maintenance, and community engagement.

From this broad plan the BFMC develops an annual works program. Ku-ring-gai Council is responsible for implementing many of the bushfire management works on their land.

Asset protection zones

Asset Protection Zones (APZs) are areas on the bushland interface maintained to have reduced fuel loads. APZs increase the separation distance between buildings and bushfire prone vegetation, reducing radiant heat at the building and providing a safer space for firefighters to work from when protecting properties from a bushfire.

APZs are identified in the BFRMP. Where possible they are situated within private property boundaries, and where they cannot be accommodated on private property they are established on public land. Where APZs are on private property it is the responsibility of private property owners to manage these areas.

How does Council manage APZ’s?

This depends on various factors such as slope, vegetation type and whether there are creeks or rocky outcrops. Typical treatments include selective pruning and removal of vegetation, mowing, and burning. Most APZs are about 10 metres wide, although in some cases they can be much wider.

It is important to note that even the largest APZ provides a negligible reduction in the risk posed by ember attack and the only effective way to increase a home’s resilience to ember attack is through upgrading and effectively maintaining the building and immediately adjacent area. It is also critical that people living in bushfire prone areas recognise that there can be no guarantee that even buildings constructed to the absolute highest standards will survive a bush fire and that the only safe option on days of Extreme or Catastrophic Fire Danger Rating is to leave early, before a fire even starts.

Prescribed burning

Council conducts prescribed burns to manage bushfire risk and preserve our biodiversity. Our prescribed burns are carefully planned well in advance to protect the community, our assets, and the environment.

Prescribed burning is an important component of bush fire management but cannot completely exclude bushfires. The protection conferred by prescribed burns reduces over time, with fuels accumulating to pre-fire levels within as little as four years in some cases. Even where fuel loads are still very low, extreme weather can allow bushfires to develop and carry. The only safe option on days of Extreme or Catastrophic Fire Danger Rating is to leave early, before a fire even starts.

There are two categories of prescribed burns that Council conducts: hazard reduction burns and ecological burns.

Hazard reduction burns

These are mainly for bushfire protection. They provide strategically located fuel reduced areas in the landscape which reduce the risk of large bushfires, enable the suppression of bushfires that do develop and reduce vulnerability of assets that are susceptible to fire. Hazard reduction burns quickly reduce fuel loads over large areas, however they provide only temporary protection and they are most effective where they complement other bush fire protection measures.

Ecological burns (also known as ecoburns)

Planned with specific biodiversity objectives in mind, such as providing improved habitat for threatened species or regenerating endangered ecological communities. Ecoburns are generally smaller than hazard reduction burns and form part of a broader program of ecological restoration. Weed and pest control activities are integrated with the ecoburn to optimise biodiversity outcomes.

Environmental considerations

Fire is an essential component of many ecological systems within Australia, but inappropriate fire regimes can reduce biodiversity and cause erosion. The frequency, intensity, and size of burns all need to be within certain parameters to maintain the health of the land.  

Fire frequency is the most important environmental consideration. Many plant species rely on fire for their seeds to germinate. If there is a subsequent fire in an area before these plants have had time to mature and produce seed, they may be removed from the system. If fire is absent for too long, the seeds will lose viability and the species will be unable to re-establish. Prescribed burns must be undertaken in accordance with minimum fire intervals stipulated for the vegetation type.

Some fire-dependent plants require heat for their seeds’ dormancy to be broken. If a fire is very cool, only the seeds close to the soil surface will germinate and can also result in a lot of fuel remaining unburnt. Very hot fires can destroy seeds near the soil surface and can also remove a lot of canopy foliage, leaving the soil susceptible to erosion when it rains. High intensity fires are difficult to control and may escape and become wildfires. Prescribed burns are kept to low intensities through rearranging fuel distributions prior to the burn, conducting the burn during suitable weather, and utilising appropriate lighting patterns.

Prescribed burning aims to maintain a mosaic of long-unburnt and recently burnt bushland in the landscape. This ensures animals have a diversity of habitats and acts as an insurance policy in the event that drought or wildfire compromise post-burn regeneration. In Ku-ring-gai the bushland is fragmented and occurs in small, isolated patches and therefore our prescribed burns are generally small in size.

Weather considerations

The completion of both hazard reduction burns and ecoburns is dependent on suitable weather, both on the day of burning and over the weeks prior. Therefore planned burns are not scheduled far in advance. Once burns are scheduled the community is notified via letterbox drops so that they can take action to reduce the impacts of smoke and noise.

The fire trail network

The Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Bush Fire Risk Management Committee develops the Fire Access and Fire Trail (FAFT) Plan, updated every five years. The FAFT Plan ensures there is appropriate access for bushfire management activities including prescribed burning and bushfire suppression. The Plan categorises existing fire trails and considers the need for additional new trails, and prioritises maintenance works.

Council has recently completed upgrades to fire trails in Blackbutt Reserve, Comenarra Creek Reserve, Bradley Park, Ku-ring-gai Creek Reserve, Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Gardens, and St Ives Showgrounds to ensure firefighters can rely on safe and trafficable access and egress. Council is currently working with the Soil Conservation Service to upgrade the fire trail network through Lovers Jump Creek Reserve.

For more information you can also visit the Rural Fire Service or download the Fires Near Me App.