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Bushfires in orchards preparation: Learnings from 2019–20 bushfires

Weather & Environment

With the unfolding bushfire warnings in Queensland, growers should ensure they are prepared for the threat of bushfires and take critical steps to protect orchards, assets and people.

NSW DPI documented learnings from the 2019–20 bushfire season affecting Batlow and Bilpin to help growers and industry stakeholders prepare for similar future events.

Please find a summary of key lessons and actions below to help you prepare:

Have a bushfire survival plan

Consider whether you plan to leave early or stay and defend your property. A plan ensures you carefully consider safety and opportunities to mitigate risk and losses. For help with making your plan, refer to the Rural Fire Service website here.

Identify fuel sources

The three major fuel sources that led to the majority of orchard and nursery damage in the Batlow were:

  • dry grass in the tree row (resulting in patchy slow-cooker burn within the blocks)
  • native vegetation and pine trees on boundaries (resulting in blowtorch burn to the edges of blocks)
  • dry sawdust in nursery stool beds leading to widescale loss of rootstock production capacity.

Identify the fuel sources for fire surrounding and within your orchard and consider fuel loads.

Implement strategies to minimise risk

Practical strategies to help minimise risks on orchard properties and packing facilities include:

  • Keep under tree strips clear of dry matter.
  • Keep inter-rows green.
  • In nurseries, keep sawdust in apple rootstock stool beds damp.
  • Establish fire breaks between boundaries and orchards.
  • Where overhead sprinkler systems are in place, consider how they might be used during a fire.
  • Identify areas that will provide refuge for assets and machinery.
  • Position machinery as far away as possible from flame and ember sources – don’t group machinery in one location to avoid total loss of assets.
  • Clear any combustible material from fire-fighting assets, such as pump sheds, supply lines and water tanks.
  • Make sure cool room backup generators are working in the event of a loss of power to safeguard stored fruit.

Consider heavy watering

Water is a valuable asset; however, there are some benefits to applying heavy watering to help protect property and orchards.

  • Pre-watering can help trees and crops cope with the hot and dry conditions.
  • If irrigation systems are damaged during fires, pre-watering could be the last water trees receive until systems can be re-established.
  • Utilise overhead or micro-sprinkler irrigation to help dampen the orchard and reduce potential fire impact.

When protecting your property, also consider what is covered by insurance (e.g. sheds and machinery), versus assets that cannot be insured (e.g. trees and orchard structures) and direct your efforts accordingly.

Look after yourself

It is important to consider your safety and wellbeing. Bushfires can lead to loss of life and cause serious damage to property and infrastructure, but the fire itself is only one part of the danger – fire embers, radiant heat, toxic fumes and smoke from bushfires are also very dangerous.

Do not take excessive risks. By understanding your level of risk, you will be able to make informed decisions that are right for you, your property and business.

Stay up to date

Ensure you keep yourself informed, following advice from local fire authorities and staying up to date with the latest emergency warnings.

You can access live updates on the unfolding bushfire situation in Queensland via the Queensland Fire Emergency Services website here.

For additional learnings, you can read the read NSW DPI’s complete publication Bushfires in apple orchards: observations from the 2019–20 season by clicking the link below.


Click to download ‘Bushfires in apple orchards: observations from the 2019–20 season’



Acknowledgements and credit:

NSW Department of Primary Industries

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services

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