A new fire research and education facility, the first of its kind in Australia, will be launched in the Northern Territory today.
Each year part of the Territory Wildlife Park, near Darwin, will be burnt, allowing the public and students to experience the effects of fire on the environment first hand.
CSIRO ecologist Dr Alan Andersen said most bushfires in Australia occurred in the tropical north, with more than 30 million hectares burnt annually.
However, Dr Andersen said there was often widespread confusion and concern over why so much of the Top End was burnt.
"Fire is very much a natural and important part of the tropical savanna environment," he said. "But there's an urgent need to improve our knowledge and understanding of the role of fire in the Top End environment and that's why this unique new facility has been developed with the support of the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre."
The Bushfire CRC is a new national initiative taking an integrated approach to fire research. Its research program covers aspects from fire behaviour to the ecology of fire, and community education.
Territory Wildlife Park Manager Michelle Monsour said visitors to the Park would be able to learn about fire as they walked through burnt bush at special fire demonstration sites.
"For students, these demonstration sites will provide unique open-air 'classrooms' for studying the effects of fire on the environment," she said. "No where else in Australia will students have this sort of opportunity."
Dr Andersen said a series of plots in the Park would be used by researchers from CSIRO, Charles Darwin University and other organisations to study the effects of different types of fires on habitat, soil health and biodiversity.
"Results from the research will be continually incorporated into interpretative displays at the public demonstration sites, as well as being a significant input to the Bushfire CRC's national program," he said.
Bushfires Council of the Northern Territory Chief Fire Control Officer Brent Williams said community awareness and understanding was critically important for managing fire in the north.
"This new facility will play an important role in educating the public about the need for active fire management across northern Australia," he said.
Dr Alan Andersen, CSIRO, 0414 466 487 or 08 8945 0196
Ms Michelle Monsour, Territory Wildlife Park, 0401 115 754 or 08 8988 7219
Mr Brent Williams, Bushfires Council NT, 040111574008 or 08 8922 0832