All the factors that lead to the recent terrible fires in Victoria are present in WA. Fire damage has increased over recent years, as shown in the graphic below for forested crown land in the Southwest of the State.
For a 25 year period after the 1961 Dwellingup fire there was a comprehensive fuel reduction program in WA forests that gave us a very high level of protection from serious bushfires. Up until about 1985 the majority of the jarrah forest, for example, was burned by low intensity fires every 5-7 years to keep fuel loads down. After that time, the fuel reduction burning program fell away badly and the area of bushfires began to rise. Now, about half the forest area will support an uncontrollable crown fire – a tragic situation.
There is a similar situation on private land in the South West of the State. For about 25 years the Bush Fires Board and volunteer brigades carried out a vigorous fuel management program, which maintained low fuel loads in rural areas. When the functions of the Bush Fires Board were taken over by FESA, this program also fell away, as FESA’s prime focus is fire suppression, not fuel management.
The graph below shows how the area of forest covered by fuel reduction burns by CALM/DEC has declined in recent years.
Comparison of this graph with the previous one showing the annual area of wildfires indicates that so long as the area of fuel reduction burning averaged 300,000 ha a year the area covered by wildfire was very low. The increase in wildfire area coincides with the period when the average area under FRB fell below this figure.