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2019 Wildfires burn 20 times as much land as managed fuel reduction in NSW (so far)

The conversation Australia needs: should we prevent fires with prescribed burns or solar panels?

The wildfires in NSW  so far have burned 2,700,000 ha or, if it were one square area –a box 164km x 164km and destroyed at least 720 houses (that was Dec 11).

The dilemma: will it be managed fires, or unmanaged wildfires to reduce the fuel? Or if you are Tim Flannery who says it’s “immoral not to connect the dots“, the question is “how many solar panels will it take to stop those houses burning down?” Or perhaps “how do we stop lightning”?

This is the rough size of the controlled hazard reduction target area, as carried out for NSW compared to the area of “hazard-reduction” by Mother Nature. The area of official hazard reduction by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is 135,000 ha, equivalent to a square of dimensions 36km x 36km. There would be some other private fuel reduction. Can anyone find figures for that?

Australian Wildfires Area, 2019, NSW, December. Map.

Australian Wildfires Area, 2019, NSW, December. Map.


To protect houses we need a 100m margin (at least) and to burn 20% of the landscape each year.

New South Wales NPWS fire ecologist, Ross Bradstock, said that to protect Sydney housing:

We have worked out you have to burn 20 per cent of the landscape per annum to significantly reduce the size of wildfires, fires under severe weather.(50)

— Australian Parliamentary inquiry 2002-03

Data sources:

The areas are approximate and were generated with the Google map area tool.

The largest bushfires in Australian history:

  1. 1851 Black Thursday — Victoria 5,000,000 ha
  2. 1974/74 NSW  4,500,000 ha
  3. 1984/84 NSW  3,500,000 ha
  4. 2019  NSW  2,700,000 ha and still burning.

In other handy information, sometimes NSW officials don’t even meet their targets, and lightning causes 30% of fires: 

In 2018 NSW burned 95,830 ha in fuel reduction (just 71% of the annual target of 135,000 ha) (NSW State of the Environment Report 2018, NSW EPA). “During the last 10 years, a third of fires in reserves were caused by lightning strike, which burnt 59% of the total area” (NSW State of the Environment Report 2018, EPA)


*Update: corrected the original 164km2 and 36km2 referred to the dimensions of the boxed theoretical area (Eg 164 x 164) which include an area of 27,000km2 and 1,350km2. Apologies that was not spelled out.

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