Preparing to burn grazing lands

Safety is essential when using fire to manage grazing land. Careful planning is required for a safe burn that will not endanger lives, animals, buildings, fences and neighbouring property.

Before burning it is important to understand how fire behaviour is affected by fuel load, fuel moisture, relative humidity, air temperature and wind. This is vital for a safe burn.

Fuel load

Knowing your fuel load will help you predict fire intensity as well as the speed that the fire travels. This helps you plan for fire containment and the burning procedures on the day.

Fuel moisture

  • A well cured pasture (dry and hayed off) will ignite easily and carry a hot fire
  • Pasture with an early morning dew or frost will lead to a cool fire and possible lighting difficulties
  • An uncured (green and moist) pasture will be difficult to light and probably only carry a few metres before needing to be re-lit.

Relative humidity

Measure the humidity before burning, as this influences the moisture content of the fuel.

Air temperature

Air temperature influences the fuel and the energy required for ignition, and can be a good way to ensure a cool or a hot fire.


The speed of wind and supply of oxygen to the fire determines if flames lean over closer to the ground. This helps to warm the fuel in front of the fire, leading to quicker combustion and hotter, faster fires.

A wind that changes direction is dangerous as it is difficult to understand where the fire is likely to travel. The most dangerous conditions are when wind speed and direction are unpredictable.

Tips for preparing to burn

Always carefully plan and prepare for a safe, controlled burn. Fire can be a beneficial tool for managing land, but it also has the potential for widespread destruction or death.

When preparing to burn grazing land, it's essential that you:

  • observe the weather in the lead up days, especially wind conditions
  • contact your local fire warden for a permit to light a fire
  • de-stock or reduce the number of animals on the grazing area to be burned – this allows a build-up of sufficient fuel before burning
  • prepare graded firebreaks that are a minimum of 2 grader blade widths (3–4m). Alternatively, you may be able to safely burn breaks on the day – widths will depend on fire intensity and expected weather conditions
  • make a checklist of all equipment you will need for a safe burn, including
    • communications (handheld and vehicle-mounted UHF radios)
    • vehicles (motorbikes or quad bikes)
    • personal safety equipment (heat-resistant overalls, face masks, goggles)
    • plenty of drinking water
    • fire lighting equipment (drip torches for even and rapid lighting)
    • personnel (the number of people will depend on the area to be burned and the fire intensity)
  • have an emergency contingency plan in place. If something goes wrong, you need a base from which to coordinate extra personnel, observe weather conditions or phone for help.
  • brief everyone involved in the burn and check that they know what to do. Two people should light a back burn against the wind. Two people then light a head fire with the wind (once the back burn has created a wide break). Fire lighters should move at the same pace in opposite directions to achieve an evenly lit fire.

After burning grazing land

Remember to spell burnt areas following fire to ensure pasture has time to regrow and ideally reseed before grazing. You should also manage total grazing pressure on burnt areas.

Also consider...