Plants provide the fuel for bushfires. Dried grass and leaf litter are most likely to burn. Usually green leaves don't burn easily because they have water in them. But if the fire is very strong and it's a dry, windy day, green leaves can burn too. In the most extreme conditions, whole tree canopies are burned in what are known as "crown fires."
Some plants burn more easily than others; some (such as succulent plants) are quite difficult to burn and others (such as eucalyptus trees) burn very easily.
The more fuel there is for the fire to burn, the bigger the fire. This is why fire managers try to reduce the amount of fuel by removing dead plants, or carefully burning small amount of plants (when it is safe to do) so that it doesn't fuel a big fire later on.
We need bushfires
Some people want to believe that bushfires can be completely eliminated from the environment altogether. But this a very bad idea, because bushfires are a part of the natural environment. Bushfires have existed ever since plants colonised the surface of Earth more than 400 million years ago.
The bigger question is how best to manage bushfires and learn to live with them, so our homes and places we value are not destroyed.
We need to prevent fire by managing the amount of fuel, and reducing the chance of ignition. That's just as important as fighting bushfires by putting them out.
Aboriginal people learned to live with bushfires by skilfully setting fires to reduce the amount of fuel and create habitat for wildlife. As bushfires become more common and intense due to climate change, the challenge in the 21st century is to re-learn these lessons from Australia's traditional landowners.
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