We discussed how fuel loads can effect the intensity of a wildfire, and the effects of fire intensity on the environment, in the previous section. To prevent damage to the environment due to very hot fires, and reduce the chances of damage to homes, buildings, crops, livestock, orchards, etc. it has become necessary to manage the fuel loads. The theory is to reduce the dangerous loads (be they living or dead plants) under conditions when the fire can be kept relatively under control, as opposed to having the fuel burning in hot windy weather that could lead to runaway fires. Such prescribed burning operations (previously called controlled burning) are usually undertaken in a very organised manner, ensuring that fire breaks are cut, sufficient manpower and equipment / vehicles are on site, and the weather conditions are suitable.
Historically, natural veld used to burn during the hot dry and windy summer months. The vegetation has adapted over Millions of years to burn under these conditions. There is much debate over whether to undertake prescribed burning during these conditions, or under cooler conditions where the fire can still be managed to prevent it from spreading.
There are still some people who carry out burning events without the necessary permission, resources, knowledge, or experience, and such events usually result in a runaway fire that causes extensive damage. In the case of smaller areas that need to be managed, fuel loads can be reduced through the cutting and removal of the vegetation. In some cases the cut vegetation is stacked in manageable heaps for burning at a later stage.
Irrespective of the technique used, the removal of dangerous fuel loads has become necessary to avoid damage to homes and property.
In the next article we will discuss the various organisations involved with wildfire fighting.