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Preparing a prescribed burn plan involves careful and deliberate planning. The Department of Parks and Wildlife works closely with the Department of Fire and Emergency Services and local government to ensure that the overall risk management component of a prescribed fire plan is complementary to and applied to other tenures.

A number of issues must been considered in determining the location, extent, timing and prescription parameters for any burn. Fire planning includes considering issues related to smoke, dieback disease, fauna species habitat, rare flora, mining rehabilitation or using fire for silviculture. Planning and preparation for these issues can take up to eight years.

The steps in the planning process are:

  1. Burn program planning
  2. Proposed burn program
  3. Developing a prescribed fire plan (prescription)
  4. Implementing the burn
  5. Post burn assessment

Prescribed burn planning process

Prescribed burn planning process.

Burn program planning

Parks and Wildlife prepares a plan for its burning program that identifies the areas for prescribed burning, schedules the burns for the coming year and indicates a future burning schedule for the next three years. This is called the burn program planning process.

Each Parks and Wildlife region prepares a burn plan that aligns with their regional fire management plan. The regional fire management plan is used to guide fire practitioners on which areas to burn and required outcomes to achieve departmental objectives.

South-west regions prepare annual burn plans and three year indicative burn plans. Other regions are very large and have extensive areas of arid and remote country and only prepare an annual burn plan. Longer term planning is difficult in these regions due to the high number of bushfires and irregular rainfall events that significantly affect fuel loads and flammability.

Prescribed burns for biodiversity conservation needs are identified first, followed by burns for vegetation management, such as post timber harvesting for forest regeneration. The resulting program is then assessed to ensure the proposed burn meets the requirements for strategic protection from bushfire. If these requirements are not fulfilled, the program is amended until they are.

At the end of each burning season (spring and autumn in the south-west and the wet and dry in the north) progress of the prescribed burning program is reviewed, any bushfires that have occurred are considered and the burn program is rescheduled to take account of any fire activity. Stakeholders and the community are provided with opportunities to contribute to the burn program development.

Proposed burn program

The result of the planning process is an indicative prescribed burning program for the season ahead and the following seasons.

The proposed burns are designed to meet a combination of purposes:

  • biodiversity conservation through application of scientifically based fire regimes to maintain and protect native flora and fauna communities and/or habitats
  • community protection - protection of human life, property, public assets, parks, water catchments, timber values and plantations
  • silvicultural burns for regeneration of native forests following timber harvesting
  • managing vegetation
  • managing water catchment productivity
  • research and
  • community interest.

Once the indicative prescribed burn program has been approved by the department’s Director General, it is published on this website. The programs are shown as maps and as a KML (Google satellite imagery) file on the Indicative burn plans page. Please note that the areas are based on coarse block boundaries only and will change following internal consultation, field inspections and further input from community engagement processes.

With the burn areas identified, the next step is to develop a prescribed fire plan for each burn.

Prescribed fire plan

Each designated burn area has to have a prescribed fire plan prepared for it. This plan identifies all the preliminary work required to prepare the burn for ignition. These works include numerous tasks and checks to ensure the burn can be undertaken safely and effectively and achieve the desired outcome.

Some of these tasks are:

  • checking for rare flora
  • determining the fauna species that are likely to be present
  • undertaking fuel sampling to determine fuel loads and conditions
  • maintaining access around the burn boundaries
  • preparing plans to deal with dieback disease or weed infestations
  • notifying neighbours and users of the area such as beekeepers and tourism operators
  • preparing maps and documentation to assist personnel undertaking the burn.

During this planning section the burn objectives and success criteria are established. Burn objectives are a set of nominated outcomes that are to be achieved. The objectives set should be specific; measurable; achievable; realistic and; time bound. For each objective stated, there is a list of pertinent success criteria. For example, if the burn objective is to create an even mosaic of burnt patches up to 500ha, then the success of this outcome can be measured but using satellite imagery or aerial surveillance to visually see if this was achieved.

The prescribed fire plan also identifies the weather conditions that are required to achieve the stated objectives of the burn and sets the limits and conditions of when and how the burn is to be ignited.

Burn implementation

Through years of experience, gained knowledge and valuable scientific research, Parks and Wildlife fire practitioners have identified the best ways to implement a prescribed burn, depending on vegetation types, terrain and desired outcomes.

Lighting sequences and methods are included in each prescribed fire plan. There are two main ignition methods - aerial ignition and hand ignition. A combination of these two methods is sometimes used, and the previously mentioned fuel loads and weather conditions are all strictly adhered to.

A stringent daily ignition approval process is in place to ensure that each burn meets its prescribed conditions.

  • Burn implimentation planning

    Burn implementation planning.

  • Incendiary machine

    Incendiary machine.

Fire fact
A predecessor agency of Parks and Wildlife pioneered aerial burning in the 1960s and Parks and Wildlife continues to lead the world in incendiary technology. See Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC – aerial burning for more information.

Post burn assessment

When a burn has been completed, it is assessed against the objectives set out in the prescribed fire plan. Factors such as the arrangement of the mosaic of burnt and unburnt patches can be determined through ground surveillance, aerial surveillance, satellite imagery or airborne scanners. The method used depends on weather conditions, burn locality, size of the burn area and the data required

Ground surveillance: The area is assessed on foot or vehicle to evaluate and measure the success of the burn against the objectives and success criteria set in the prescribed fire plan.

Aerial surveillance: Visual assessments from the ground or air may be used to evaluate and measure the success of a burn, with hand drawn maps or photographs used to illustrate the burnt area and to determine if the appropriate vegetation mosaic criteria was met.

Satellite imagery: LANDSAT and MODIS satellites are often used to map fires, depending on:

  • the resolution at which the fire is detected and mapped
  • the path of the satellite
  • the interval between overpasses
  • the extent to which the scene is clear or obscured by cloud or smoke, and
  • the cost of image acquisition and processing (i.e. whether manual or automated).

Airborne scanner: New airborne scanning technology is now used for post burn assessment of autumn burns in the southern areas of the state, where cloud cover often makes other techniques impossible.