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Naked Sun Orchid Photo from Clive Chesson

Prescribed burn brings engangered orchid back from the brink of extinction

The Naked Sun-orchid (Thelymitra circumsepta) is an endangered species in South Australia known to occur in only a single location – a swamp near Mount Lofty. In 2017, the situation for the orchid was so dire that only 12 individual plants were found.

Some orchids are known to respond positively to fire and it is thought that much of the habitat that Naked Sun-orchids had occupied in the past has been taken over by the native Coral Fern (Gleichenia microphylla) in the absence of fire. DEW ecologists and fire management officers had the idea to try to use a prescribed burn to reduce the cover of Coral Fern and stimulate orchid recruitment. But ecological responses to fire are often complex and with only 12 surviving plants there was no room for error.

Crews were very careful to burn only half of the existing population to ensure some plants survived as a precaution. Since 2017 when the burn was completed, staff and volunteers from the Native Orchid Society of SA have monitored the burned and unburned areas to see how the species is responding.

Happily, the results have been very positive! In the area that was burned, there were originally only 6 orchids counted before the fire but that number has now increased to more than 80 plants post-fire! Compare that to no increase in orchid numbers in the unburned area and it seems clear that, so far, the burning was beneficial.

Monitoring of the area will continue to see how many orchids flower and set seed and to see if any more emerge in the burned area previously covered by ferns outside of the known occupied zone. This prescribed burn has been successful in achieving dual benefits both reducing fuel loads to protect lives and property and contributing to threatened species conservation.

You can find a video about this story here

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The Proper Bay prescribed burn strategy.

Private Land Burn Protecting Port Lincoln

Strategic prescribed burning is an important part of preparing for bushfire season. DEW prescribed burns have been undertaken in National Parks for a number of years, and the program has  recently has begun partnering with landholders to plan and conduct burns on private lands and reduce bushfire risk across the landscape.

On 15 November 2018, DEW in partnership with the CFS conducted the first private land burn on the Eyre Peninsula near Port Lincoln. The burn was over a 25-hectare area along Proper Bay Road with the goal of reducing fuel loads in order to improve the safety of surrounding residents should a bushfire threaten that part of town.

Months of planning went on before this burn was implemented looking at factors like the best time of year to burn, what sort of control lines would be needed and how many resources would be required. Establishing thresholds for weather elements on the burn day such as temperature, humidity, wind speed, and wind direction is important to ensure that the burn could be controlled once lit yet still burn at an appropriate intensity to achieve the reduced fuel load goal. Once the day with suitable weather conditions was chosen, crews conducted the burn by slowly burning into the wind along two edges before using the wind to allow the fire to carry through the rest of the burn area towards the already secured edge (see the image above).

The burn put up a lot of smoke that could be seen from Port Lincoln due to the fire intensity needed to adequately reduce the fuel load but it was all completed safely and successfully. DEW will continue burning across the landscape on the Eyre Peninsula and elsewhere in South Australia to strategically target high bushfire risk areas.

If you would like more information about burning on private lands, please visit DEW’s Fire Management webpage.

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A DEW Remote Area Fire Team

DEW Firefighters Deployed to Assist in Tasmania

A total of 54 DEW staff have headed to Tasmania over the last 5 weeks to help fight fires across the state, protecting homes and sensitive wilderness areas. Similar to the southern mainland states, Tasmania has experienced a very hot and dry summer, this and the remoteness of the fires is proving to be very challenging.

To date, 20 Incident Management and 36 Remote Area Fire Team members have been sent and further deployments are planned over the remainder of this month. In the latest rotation, two Rangers were also included to assist with Park Management while Tasmanian Rangers are busy with firefighting operations. This arrangement will also continue for a month with two SA rangers being sent each week.

Incident Management team members are based out of Launceston or Hobart and have been carrying out roles including planning, predictions, mapping, resourcing and logistical and operational coordination.

Remote Area Firefighters have been working in several different locations, with some teams being inserted by helicopter each day with their tools and walking significant distances to access the fires. All of these crews meet stringent health and fitness guidelines, have specialised training, skills and equipment to undertake these roles.
South Australia has contributed more than 90 personnel to date from CFS and DEW, which is the second largest contribution of any State or Territory.

Thankfully the fires have abated this week with cooler conditions and rain, so it is hoped that this will give crews the opportunity to get all of the blazes under control. Fires burning in the peat layer on the ground will continue to be an issue for some time to come.

Check out this short video with footage from the deployment here

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