Smoke from hazard reduction burns have been visible across parts of Sydney and other areas in New South Wales this week, but it should pass in a day, according to the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS).
Hazard reduction burning has been planned in various areas across the State over the coming days, including Willoughby, Randwick, Ku-ring-gai, Blue Mountains and the Central Coast.
Dr Richard Broome, executive director of Health Protection for NSW Health, said smoke can have serious health effects.
“Smoke particles irritate the eyes and airways. For most people, this causes temporary symptoms like cough and sore throat,” he said in a statement.
“However, smoke particles can worsen heart and lung conditions like angina, asthma and emphysema, potentially causing serious illness.”
How can residents prepare?
RFS has listed out several precautions on its website that residents can take if a hazard reduction burn has been planned for their area.
It recommends that they keep doors and windows closed to prevent smoke entering homes, take in laundry from clotheslines, ensure that pets are in a safe area and cover up outdoor furniture to prevent ember burns.
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People driving on the road should also slow down, keep windows up and turn their headlights on.
“Over the coming days, the smoke is expected to be worse in the mornings, so people are advised to limit outdoor activity until it clears in the afternoon.” – Dr Richard Broome, Health Protection for NSW Health
What is hazard reduction burning?
A hazard reduction burn, also known as controlled burning or prescribed burning, is a fire that is deliberately started to reduce the severity of future bushfires.
It usually happens outside of the bushfire season and aims to reduce leaf litter and debris that would fuel a fire in areas that are close to other properties.
They are planned by NSW land managers, such as National Parks and Local Government Authorities, and fire agencies, including NSW Rural Fire Service and Fire and Rescue NSW.
Hazard reduction burning is planned well in advance with the aim of having minimal impact on the environment and community.
Why is it needed?
The goal of hazard reduction is to produce areas that will burn at a lower intensity that can be controlled more easily by firefighters, according to the Climate Council. The aim is to help protect people, property and the environment.
In an article by The Guardian, Patrick Baker, a professor of silviculture and forest ecology, said that hazard reduction burning is most effective when used as part of a risk-based system to protect chosen assets.
It is just one way of preparing for bushfires and doesn’t remove the threat of bushfires completely. In severe, extreme or catastrophic fire conditions, hazard reduction can have very little impact.
A hazard reduction burn is just one way of preparing for bushfires and doesn’t remove the threat of bushfires completely.
What to do when the air quality is poor?
Although fire agencies and land managers do everything to take into consideration weather forecasts and conditions, sometimes it is still difficult to predict where smoke will spread and how it will impact the community.
“Smoke from hazard reduction burns can be patchy and conditions often change rapidly. Over the coming days, the smoke is expected to be worse in the mornings, so people are advised to limit outdoor activity until it clears in the afternoon,” Dr Broome said.
“It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on the NSW air quality website for real-time information about air pollution levels and for advice on what action you should take.”
Smoke from hazard reduction burning can affect certain people more than others. Children, older adults and people with heart and lung conditions are most susceptible.
NSW Health advises people to monitor the NSW RFS hazard reduction page for information about planned burns and smoke advisories in their area. You could also download their Fires Near Me app.
People with asthma or lung conditions should reduce outdoor activities when smoke levels are high. If they develop shortness of breath or begin coughing, they should take their reliever medicine or seek medical advice.