Clearing vegetation close to houses is the best way to reduce the impacts of severe bushfires, according to a team of scientists from Australia and the USA who examined house loss as a result of Black Saturday.
The research involving 12,000 measurements at 500 houses affected by the Black Saturday fires was only made possible by the sheer size of the devastation of February 7, 2009.
"More than any other major wildfire in Australia, Black Saturday provided an unprecedented opportunity to learn about the effects of land management on house loss," said senior author Philip Gibbons from The Australian National University.
The research team found that fuel reduction close to houses afforded the greatest protection.
"Clearing trees and shrubs within 40 metres of houses was the most effective form of fuel reduction on Black Saturday," said Gibbons. "However, there was less risk to houses from vegetation in planted gardens compared with vegetation in remnant native bushland."
Houses close to public forest were at greater risk, but concerns raised after Black Saturday about national parks were not reflected in the results.
"On Black Saturday, houses were at similar risk whether they were adjacent to national park or state forest," said Professor David Lindenmayer from ANU, a co-author of the research.
Logging native forests did not reduce the chance of house loss.
"We found no significant relationship between house loss and the amount of logging in the landscape," said Professor Ross Bradstock from The University of Wollongong who was an expert witness in the Bushfires Royal Commission.
A key issue after Black Saturday was prescribed burning. However, the researchers found that prescribed burning was not the best way to protect houses, despite examining landscapes that had been burnt considerably prior to Black Saturday.