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Grass fire. Photo Mark Jones.
Grass fire. Photo Mark Jones.
Fire has shaped the evolution of Australia’s landscapes and native species over millions of years.

There’s great diversity in the frequency and severity of fires across Australia. Influences include both human intervention and natural factors such as changes in vegetation patterns and fluctuations in weather and climate.

A grass tree regenerating at Reedy Creek Reserve Photo: Steve Heggie.

Our Fire Management Program includes staff training, site-specific fire management and response plans, assessing and managing fuel loads, creating fire breaks, managing access tracks and coordinating with neighbours.

This preparation helps us respond to and control summer bushfires, helping reduce their intensity and safeguarding ecological, cultural and structural assets. 

Improving our processes based on lessons learned is a key focus.

Otto Campion (Chair of ASRAC) lighting fires the traditional way in the Arafura Swamp. Photo Claire Thompson.

‘Right-way’ fire

Aboriginal people have managed fire regimes for thousands of years and continue to manage large parts of Australia through the careful use of fire.

Strict cultural protocols around burning were once common and today many of our partnerships with Aboriginal groups still maintain these protocols through the role of elders in determining where and when controlled burns are used.

Historically fire was an important tool to maintain plant and animal species that people relied on for survival. Parts of the North Kimberley (where we have a partnership with Wunambal Gaambera) are among the only places in Australia to record no small mammal extinctions. Here plant and animal communities still rely on small, low-severity burns carried out under Aboriginal stewardship.

One of the best tools to combat bushfires is fire itself. Quite literally, fighting fire with fire.

In addition to natural fire regimes there are many contemporary threats including arson, climate changeland clearing and land degradation (primarily from agriculture).

Invasive grasses such as Buffel (Cenchrus ciliaris) and Gamba grass (Andropogon gayanus) significantly increase the bushfire risk across large areas.

Fire management planning

There’s no ‘one-size fits all’ approach to fire management. Every landscape is unique, and so is the potential impact of bushfire.

Our reserve staff and science team individually assess every property. We combine the latest satellite technology with the knowledge of partners on the ground (including neighbours and Traditional Owners) to map key conservation targets and threats.

Controlling a tactical backburn at Yourka's December 2019 bushfire.

Northern Australia

The tropical savannas are some of the most naturally fire-prone landscapes in the world. The annual ‘dry season’ leaves the landscape tinder dry at the hottest time of the year and lightning regularly starts bushfires.

We have partnerships with Aboriginal groups across Arnhem Land, the North Kimberley and Cape York, where the careful use of prescribed burns is the most important tool for conserving biodiversity and cultural sites.

Our Yourka and Carnavon reserves are under threat most years from lightning strikes.

Regeneration of temperate wet sclerophyll forest after fire, Liffey River Reserve. Photo Wayne Lawler/EcoPix.

Southern Australia

In Southern Australia fire frequencies have been lower but in denser forests and woodlands can be much more intense. The combustibility of vegetation is influenced by climatic conditions such as the El Niño–Southern Oscillation, the Indian Ocean Dipole and the Southern Annular mode. Above-average rainfalls that promote growth and increase fuel loads can be followed by extended hot, dry conditions.

At our reserves in TasmaniaVictoriaNew South Wales and in southern Western Australia we’ve been implementing ecological burns to help areas recover from land clearing, to maintain vegetation structure and diversity and to reduce fuel loads. We’re reviewing our options as global warming intensifies the challenges.

Glen Norris implements a controlled burn at Ethabuka Reserve. Photo Sajidah Abdhullah.

Arid zone

In the arid zone fire frequency and severity is directly related to above-average rainfalls that can lead to prolific growth in grass and vegetation. Our Ethabuka and Pilungah reserves, on the edge of the Simpson Desert in Queensland, experienced large rainfall events in 2016 and 2017. We responded to reduce the risk of bushfire through strategic prescribed burns over relatively small areas.

We also have the Birriliburu partnership in the Little Sandy and Gibson Deserts of WA, where we work closely with senior Martu Traditional Owners and rangers to plan and implement prescribed burns.

Controlled burns

The difference between proactive, controlled burns and uncontrolled bushfires is stark. It’s often the difference between life and death for native species.

Controlled burns are carried out in cooler conditions, often after recent rainfall, to create slow-moving, low-severity fires in carefully selected areas with appropriate vegetation communities.

On our reserves we work closely with our ecologists and the latest research to recreate a mosaic pattern of fire histories, which supports biodiversity and fire-sensitive plant and animal species. These controlled burns in cool conditions can reduce fuel build-up and help control weeds.

Bushfires often start in hot, dry, windy weather and can quickly reach into tree canopies, destroying nesting hollows and food sources, killing small mammals and devastating ecosystems.

A large bushfire in the Kimberley. Photo Ross Bray.

We also create strategic fire breaks that help control prescribed burns and can restrict the spread and movement of large bushfires.

The impact of bushfires can be confronting. Millions of animals perish, and the ones that survive are left without crucial cover and susceptible to predators – especially cats.

Fire management is collaborative

Bushfires have no respect for property borders and can burn out cattle stations and agricultural land, impacting pastoral livelihoods as well.

We work together with neighbours and local stakeholders to ensure that together we’re protecting the landscape. With approval from the local fire authorities, we conduct controlled burns on reserves with strict supervision by reserve managers, and the support and on-ground assistance (where required) of relevant park or fire agencies.

Mat McLean at Reedy Creek Reserve, helping QLD parks and the local fire brigade implement controlled burns.

How the land responds

When burning is skilfully carried out it can reinvigorate ageing vegetation communities, encourage flowering and seeding and provide a flush of new green shoots and nutritious small herbs for grazing wildlife.

By strategically burning small areas we build complexity into the vegetation over successive seasons. After some years this creates patches of bush at different stages of regeneration that can provide the resources animals need, no matter what the season.

Fire stories

BUSHTRACKS 21/06/2024

A day with DUMAWUL

We deepen our understanding of Djandak’s history, present and future.

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Prescribed burn at Pilunga Reserve, Wangkamadla Country. By Bee Stephens

BUSHTRACKS 27/10/2023

Land, bird, smoke and man

Prescribed burns on Pilungah and Ethabuka reserves, Wangkamadla Country, prepare the landscape for bushfire season and enhance biodiversity.

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Bush Broadcast: Live from Boolcoomatta


Webinar: Climate change resilience

Live from Tarcutta Reserve (NSW) where staff on the ground will discuss managing our reserves to create bushfire-resilient landscapes.

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Woodlands at Tarcutta Hills. By Annette Ruzicka

BUSHTRACKS 13/06/2023

The first of many flames

A cultural burn at Tarcutta Hills Reserve, Wiradjuri Country, lights the way for the revival of right-way fire practices.

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BLOG 10/03/2023

2023 North Australia Savannah Fire Forum

We had several Bush Heritage representatives at the annual Savanna Fire Forum on Larrakia country last month. After two years of online events, savannah fire management experts from across the country were glad to meet face-to-face this year.

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BLOG 08/02/2023

Fighting fire in the dry

A recent wildfire on Yourka Reserve has revealed the benefits of best practice controlled burning in tropical north Queensland.

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Cool burn at Friendly Beaches Reserve, Tasmania. Photo Michael Bretz.

BUSHTRACKS 17/10/2022

A friendly fire

Led by truwana Rangers, cool burning at Friendly Beaches Reserve plans to create the healthiest possible habitat for the vulnerable New Holland Mouse.

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Paul Hales conducting a controlled burn. Photo Martin Willis.

BUSHTRACKS 14/06/2022

The art of burning in the rain

How aerial, controlled burning is utilising climatic conditions at Yourka Reserve on Jirrbal and Warrungu country in Queensland.

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BLOG 21/02/2022

What has all this rain meant for our fire team?

The 2021/22 La Nina has brought significant rainfall to the eastern seaboard of Australia, while the west has seen below average conditions. Here are some weather highlights from the first few months.

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Grass fire. Photo Mark Jones.

BUSHTRACKS 07/10/2021

Fiery footprints

After 10 years of the Healthy Country Plan, Wunambal Gaambera country is thriving, with right-way fire lighting the way.

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BLOG 27/04/2021

Bunuba right-way winthali

On Bunuba country in the Kimberley, essential winthali (fire) work is being undertaken to prepare the land for the dry season.

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BLOG 07/01/2021

A summer fire near Naree

On Monday 28 December a fire, caused by a lightning strike from a recent thunderstorm, started on a neighbouring property to the west of Naree Station Reserve on Budjiti country in north​ western New South Wales. Thankfully, it was quickly contained.

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A blazing wildfire.


Bushfire impact & recovery

A year on from the 2019 bushfire season, how Bush Heritage Australia and WIRES are working collaboratively to help secure the future of all native species.

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BLOG 22/07/2020

A fire management first

Set between the harsh, arid desert uplands and escarpment of the Aramac range and the fertile black soil plains to the south, Edgbaston Reserve is a truly unique and diverse area. Last week Bush Heritage staff began its program of fire management activities on Edgbaston for the first time since purchase of this property.

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BLOG 14/07/2020

Enriching grasslands after fire

In February this year about 73% (1006ha) of Scottsdale Reserve burnt in the Clear Range bushfire. Around 84% of its native grasslands were affected and more than 50% of the reserve’s woodlands burnt at such a high intensity that the native seed bank was destroyed.

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BUSHTRACKS 12/06/2020

Seeds of change

Fire can be as harmful as it is essential in the Kimberley of Western Australia. Maintaining that fine balance is at the heart of the Bunuba Rangers’ fire program, bringing right-way winthali back to country.

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Raptors hunt around the edges of a burn. Photo Claire Thompson.

BUSHTRACKS 12/06/2020


The Mimal Rangers of central Arnhem Land are looking after country the right way, preventing damaging wildfires and reducing emissions, with a fire-spreading raptor at their side.

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BUSHTRACKS 12/06/2020

Six months on

Silver linings shine as Bush Heritage’s Yourka Reserve in far north Queensland regenerates following a significant bushfire last year.

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BUSHTRACKS 13/04/2020

The science of recovery

Two months after the North Black Range Fire swept across Bush Heritage’s Burrin Burrin Reserve in NSW, ecologist Dr Matt Appleby assesses the damage and recovery rate.

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BLOG 28/02/2020

Bushfire on-ground assessments

It's been a very busy few weeks here at Bush Heritage. I have been out to our bushfire affected reserves in New South Wales to survey the impact alongside our Senior Leadership team, local reserve staff and ecologists.

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BLOG 07/02/2020

Bushfire update from Scottsdale

On Saturday 1 February, the Orroral (Namadgi) and Clear Range fires swept over the Murrumbidgee River and onto the western half of our Scottsdale Reserve. This has been a tense and challenging time and we are eternally grateful for the heroic efforts of the RFS and the extraordinary people on the ground fighting for our beloved Scottsdale. Importantly, our people remain safe and our community strong.

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BLOG 03/02/2020

Scottsdale under fire

As we know from this unrelenting bushfire season, a lot can change in the space of a weekend. When I wrote to you on Friday with an update, we were hopeful that our Scottsdale Reserve, located between Canberra and Cooma, would remain unscathed. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the NSW Rural Fire Service and our on-ground staff (themselves with personal property under threat), a large proportion of Scottsdale has been, and continues to be, impacted by bushfire. As you can imagine, it’s been a tense and challenging time.

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BLOG 31/01/2020

Bushfires update

As we enter a new month, I would like to take a moment to update you on recent developments towards our post-bushfire recovery. The devastation wrought has been confronting. My heart remains with those affected, those still fighting fires and those on the ground beginning the long process of recovery.

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BLOG 06/01/2020

Bushfires on our reserves

I wanted to personally update Bush Heritage supporters on the fire threat and impact to our reserves. At the end of 2019, our on ground staff and neighbours fought fires of varying severity on six Bush Heritage reserves in three states.

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BLOG 17/12/2019

Adapting to 'black swan' fire events

Some thoughts on the Australian fire crisis and an update on Bush Heritage's fire control efforts by Richard Geddes, Bush Heritage Australia's National Fire Program Manager

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BUSHTRACKS 22/03/2019

Burning the right way

Using Western technologies and traditional knowledge to keep country healthy and a millenia-old tradition alive.

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BLOG 14/12/2018

Feral cats caught on camera

We've been testing the use of burn lines as a way to draw cats towards our new Felixer cat traps at Ethabuka Reserve. The results so far are super encouraging.

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BLOG 10/05/2018

Preparing for Barrangga

Recently I had the pleasure of being part of the annual fire management work undertaken by the Bunuba Rangers and Traditional Landowners on Leopold Downs Station (Yarrangi) in the Kimberley.

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BLOG 30/04/2018

Bringing fire back to Tassie Midlands

I was recently at Beaufront, a stunning property owned by farmer and private conservationist Julian von Bibra in the Tasmanian Midlands, working alongside University of Tasmania on an innovative new fire experiment that we hope will give us some insights into the effects of fire and grazing on vegetation composition and structure.

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BLOG 23/01/2018

The raging wildfire debate

Many of you may have read an article in a recent Good Weekend magazine, debating the merits of conducting prescribed burning in Northern Australia. As Bush Heritage's National Fire Program Manager, with over a decade working in fire management and conservation in that region, I wanted to respond to some of the inaccuracies of this report.

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BUSHTRACKS 07/12/2017

In fiery footsteps

There are more than 6000 patches of rainforest on Wunambal Gaambera country, for which fire can be both protector and destroyer.

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BLOG 27/10/2016

Fire fighting green team

Bunuba Rangers attended the recent Kimberley mega wildfire, which has burnt over 1.5 million ha of remote county across the indigenous protected areas (IPAs) and pastoral properties in the western Kimberley.

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BUSHTRACKS 21/12/2015

Line of fire

Out on Bon Bon Station Reserve, the heat can sear your skin and leave you breathless. And yet this massive piece of land, which rivals the size of Sydney, is home to some of Australia’s most extraordinary creatures like the southern hairy-nosed wombat and the rare chestnut breasted whiteface. Here's how we manage wildfire risk for Bon Bon’s diverse plants and animals.

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