Managing pastures with fire

Fire is an effective management tool for controlling the balance between pasture and woody plants on a grazing area. It supports fresh plant growth and consistent ground cover for even grazing distribution.

Always obtain a permit from your local fire warden and take safety precautions when using fire.

Develop a fire strategy

A fire strategy should be part of your grazing management plan. This will help you achieve the right frequency, timing and intensity of fire for a particular paddock.

Your fire strategy will depend on local conditions such as average annual rainfall or the amount of undesirable plants and weeds.

When developing your fire strategy, consider:

  • desired outcome for fire within the property and paddocks
  • priority areas for burning
  • grazing areas to be burned annually
  • fuel load for the area to be burned
  • ability to spell the burned area
  • contingency measures (ways to manage grazing if the burn does not produce the desired results and there is poor pasture regrowth)
  • ways to monitor land condition and even grazing distribution of the new pasture
  • risks when using fire in grazing country.

Decide when to burn

Choose the right time to use fire on your grazing lands. Generally, winter is the safest season for controlled burns.

Check the weather forecast to make sure you will be able to control a fire:

  • windy conditions—a change in wind direction can cause a fire to become dangerous and unpredictable
  • hot and still conditions—the fire may become so intense that it generates its own wind and spreads other fires.

Understand what affects fire behaviour

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.

A well cured pasture 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.

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

Air temperature influences the fuel and energy needed to start a fire, 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.

Prepare to burn

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.

Always have an emergency contingency plan—if something goes wrong, you need a base from which to coordinate extra personnel, observe weather conditions or phone for help.

Before burning:

  • 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 the grazing area to be burned
  • prepare graded firebreaks that are a minimum of 2 grader blade widths (3 to 4 metres)—alternatively, you may be able to safely burn firebreaks on the day
  • brief everyone involved in the burn and check that they know what to do.

Make a checklist of equipment you will need for a safe burn:

  • 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).

Watch the Fire - master or servant? Your call! webinar to find out more about using fire, including planning firebreaks.

After burning

Spell burnt areas following fire to make sure pasture has time to regrow and ideally reseed before grazing.

You should also manage total grazing pressure on burnt areas.