Case Study of Fire Management and related costs for Elsey Station (1999).

Elsey Station (Northern Territory) is owned by the Mangarrayi Aboriginal Land Trust, and managed by Max Gorringe and his family. The station covers an area of 5,334 square kilometres, of which 2,200 km 2 is fenced. Of the total area, approximately 10% of the station is river country, 15% black soil, 60% red sandy country and 15% made up of ridges. Elsey currently runs 7,000 breeders, with a total of 13,000 head.
Elsey experiences wildfire activity almost every year. These fires prove to be a threat to cattle production through the loss of important feed reserves. The hot late fires through Elsey have potential to damage important habitats, whilst also threatening station infrastructure.

Grasslands Elsey Station

Current Fire Management Practices

Aerial Control Burn (ACB) lines are burnt early/mid dry season every year as a means of reducing fuel along and within boundaries to reduce the risk of late dry season fires moving onto the station late dry.

  • Much time is spent grading and maintaining fire breaks and fencelines, especially in the bush paddocks south of the Roper Highway. - 2 cuts graded around southern fencelines every year - fencelines along highway graded every few years - graded lines within the southern bush paddocks A grader driver is employed full time throughout the duration of the Dry season. 50% of the time the grader is in operation is spent on grading fire breaks, the other 50% is maintaining and upgrading fencelines (which serve also as fire breaks).

  • Strategic and controlled burning is carried out throughout the year to reduce fuel loads and reduce woody tree and shrub growth. Traditional Owner Billy Fullton carries out strategic burning along the road and boundaries when fuel conditions are optimal for sustaining small patchy fires to reduce fuel loads. This burning is carried out from vehicle and only requires matches and Toyota. Max will opportunistically burn in the wet season to remove old dry growth within paddocks. This involves approximately 20 hours/ year burning from the air with capsules.

  • Preventitive back burns are carried out along graded fencelines and breaks when time allows. This type of burning requires a continuous line of fire to penetrate the paddock to create a wide enough break to reduce spread of wildfires over the breaks later in the year. Toyotas, slip on units and drip torches are required for this more intensive controlled burning.

Yearly Costs for Wildfire Prevention

Grading 2 cuts along Roper and Stuart Highways, southern fence and boundary (Grader = $100/hrs), 7 days/week for 3 weeks. 8 hours/day (1 grader = 168 hs) $16,800 Back burning off sthn fenceline (9 hrs) followed by patrol and mop up (35 hrs), landcruiser and 2 people ($75/hr), one person mop up @ $25/hr $1,550 opportunistic burning within paddocks from the air $6,240 capsules (600/year) - capsule plus glycol @25 cents each $150 Aerial Control Burning, 1.4 hours burning time, ferry, wages and equipment $1500 Opportunisitic patch burning boundaries and fencelines (1 drum of diesel) $110     TOTAL SPENT ON WILDFIRE PREVENTION $26,350     Grading breaks and fencelines within paddocks, fuel 6000 litres/year @80cents/liter, labor to employ grader driver, 6 months/year, 6 days/week @ $90/day

Source of Wildfires

A majority of wildfires penetrating the Elsey boundaries come from the Eastern side from Hodgson Downs. Many fires are sourced from parking bays along the Roper Highway and are caused by careless use of fire by people passing through to Roper Bar. The Stuart Highway and old Elsey cemetery are also the source of many wildfires. The Mataranka Shire council is responsible for the fires burnt at the old cemetery and this area has been burnt seven times over the last seven years. Most wildfires occur between August and October

Fire Fighting Equipment

  • 1 Capsule thrower
  • 2 slip on water tank units
  • 1 grader
  • 4 toyotas
  • 3 drip torches
  • 1 ultra light air craft with UHF radios
  • 3 hand held UHF radios

Costs for Fire fighting

  The following cost summary has been calculated for Elsey Station in 1999. Costs were astronomical due to 2/3rds of Elsey being burnt out between August and October.

Grader (2), vehichle maintenance, tyres, fuel and oil $31,000 Replacement of damaged infrastructure (replacement of 1 toyota) $32,000 Aircraft running costs $7,200 Labor (6 men for 4 weeks - fire fighting and moving stock) $12,400 Mustering costs after the fire 12 chopper hours @ $312/hr/wet $3,744

TOTAL COSTS FOR 1999 $86,344

Fire in the Future on Elsey  

Plans to develop more country on Elsey will involve fencing the far northern portion of Elsey and the area south west of the Roper highway. Fire control in these areas will get much easier with more developed infrastructure, as access will improve and new fencelines will serve as breaks. Fencing will increase carrying capacity within paddocks and will consequently lead to reduction in fuel loads due to more efficient grazing regimes.