Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Fire in the Valley

By Chris R & Mark H.

Fire at Possum Valley is an ever present threat throughout the warmer months.  Over 15 acres of the property is covered in thick jarrah forest, providing homes and food for both local wildlife and those in care. Whilst privileged to have this resource literally on the doorstep, with it comes the responsibility of ensuring animals at the Sanctuary are safe should a fire eventuate.

'Burning off' to prevent bushfire threat.
Managing the risk of fire is a priority throughout the year.  With summer comes the cleaning and stockpiling of carriers and cages and the servicing of trailers and floats, ready to house and move residents in an evacuation.  Such an evacuation would need time and is only possible with sufficient warning.  Special care needs to be taken to minimize animal stress during a potential evacuation, keeping them cool, quiet and calm.

Clearing around aviaries, enclosures and paddocks is undertaken annually to minimise radiant heat if a fire takes hold.  Huge piles of material are burnt throughout the winter months to reduce fire risk.  While the Sanctuary favours native plantings, flammable trees such as eucalypts, overhanging aviaries and lining paddocks, are pruned or replaced with introduced, non-flammable species including poplars, maples and fruit trees.  An article on ‘fire-safe’ plantings will feature this Spring.

Areas around the buildings are cleared and re-planted.
Reticulation, set on a timer, is run around and above all animal enclosures. Throughout the summer months, it doubles to cool animals and keep the environment damp should a fire approach.  A specially designed woven cloth shipped from Queensland covers enclosures, providing shade while also protecting from embers that may catch alight.  Possums in pre-release care are provided with bags within their nest boxes, allowing them to be easily scooped and brought to safety from their pre-release aviaries in an emergency.  Nets are located with the bird aviaries in readiness for their capture.  Birds are very sensitive to smoke, with their delicate lungs at risk of smoke inhalation, so evacuation for our avian friends is at the top of the evacuation list.

Aviary with fire retardant woven cloth.
Long grass is mowed or selectively grazed and paddocks are consciously overgrazed on the approach of summer to ensure large animals have safe refuge from ground fire.  Whilst hooves appear quite tough, the soft pads which they cover can suffer badly from even small grass fires and hot ground.  It is important that paddock animals have clear room to move in a fire, so on high fire danger days, animal locations are strategically planned to ensure this requirement is met.  

In addition to property preparation, a fire trailer and fire unit are on site throughout the year, assisting in controlled burning and also in fire response should it be required.  A buffer strip protecting the house and animal accommodation is burnt annually during the burning season or following approval for a permit to burn. Care is taken not to injure native wildlife during controlled burns, with leaf litter checked for bobtails and other native neighbours while setting alight these areas.

'Burning off' on a cool evening.
Lastly, a detailed fire response plan is printed each year, ensuring all animals are accounted for in emergency.  Where possible, animals would ideally be evacuated to safety with any threat of fire, with the above preparations being implemented only in the case of a sudden fire when time is limited. 

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