Stocktake… KIPT directors Keith Lamb and Shauna Black with forest operations manager Brian Stewart at the burnt Macgill plantation on Kangaroo Island.

INDEPENDENT research from Airborne Research Australia after the 2019-20 bushfires on Kangaroo Island in South Australia has confirmed that plantations can act as a fire suppressant.

“From what I can see on our aerial imagery and Lidar it does not seem to support the opinion that the plantations were particularly bad in the fire situation,” chief scientist at Airborne,” Professor Jorg Hacker said.

“We have several examples where the native vegetation around, or even within plantations has burned, but the trees in the plantation are still alive,” he said.

About 211,000 ha on the 440,500 ha island was affected by the fires resulting from lightning strikes.

ARA is a non-commercial, not-for-profit organisation that undertook aerial surveys of vegetation in the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island after the summer bushfires.

Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers KIPT managing director Keith Lamb said it was widely acknowledged that well-managed plantations without ladder fuels could act to suppress fire when it entered the plantation.

Plantation timber comprised just 7% of the area burnt in the summer bushfires – about 15,000 ha of 210,000ha burnt.

Pilot and chief scientist Professor Jorg Hacker… using light planes and special sensors to determine effects of bushfires on trees and vegetation.

“We’ve had several property owners come to us and tell us that the plantations actually saved their assets during the summer bushfires,” Mr Lamb said. “And you can see at the back of a plantation like Jarmyn on the West End Highway, that there are unburnt trees after the Ravine fire, while assets over the road were not burnt.”

Independent bluegum growers John and Cheryl Lewis confirmed that their plantation trees had protected parts of their farm during the Ravine fires in January.

“We are quite sure our house and sheds survived because of the bluegums,” Cheryl Lewis said. “We had sheep that took shelter in native veg and they were burnt but the ones that sheltered in the plantation just wandered out the next day, unharmed.”

West End resident Margi Prideaux confirmed the protective presence of the bluegums and said senior firefighters had agreed.

“Bluegums saved our vineyard, Ms Prideaux said.

“On January 3, if we had had nothing between us and the bush block next door we would have lost the vineyard. There’s a strip of plantation bluegums and you can see the fire hit it hard but then as you go through, the fire scar reduces. It absorbed the impact before it got to our vineyard,” Ms Prideaux added: “We lost our home, but that was fire in a creekline of native vegetation.”

Airborne Research Australia used modified light planes to fly 250 m above the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island, were summer bushfires caused widespread reduction.

Data gathered during the flights was used to build interactive maps, which the organisation said could assist communities in reducing fire risks on local properties and help researchers track fire movements.

Professor Hacker said the planes were fitted with special sensors, high-resolution cameras and LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology.

“These shoot laser beams down to the ground, hundreds of thousands of them per second, and then it measures what comes back,” he said.

“If part of a tree has burnt you can see that very clearly. You then also know from the LiDAR measurements if the tree still has leaves, or whether it’s bare.”