In many parts of Australia every summer is bushfire season. The hot, dry, windy weather sucks every scrap of moisture from large areas of bush, basically converting all plant material into perfect tinder. All it takes is a spark - usually provided by nature in the form of lightning, or (more frequently nowadays) by humans via carelessly discarded cigarette butts or, all too often, as a deliberate act - to trigger an inferno which can destroy vast tracts of bushland, in the process consuming houses and sometimes people.
All year, firefighting organisations prepare for the summer by backburning. Backburning is the process of deliberately and carefully lighting controlled fires which remove flammable material from particular areas and thus limit the damage that can be caused by uncontrolled bushfires. Backburning is generally performed during the wetter months to minimise the risk of blazes getting out of hand, but even during the bushfire season judicious backburning can be a useful tool. When fires are thought to be threatening homes or other buildings, firefighters can carefully remove all flammable matter from the surrounding area with controlled backburning to prevent the blaze from reaching the protected area. Backburning can also be used to contain large fires completely, blocking their access to fuel and allowing them to burn themselves out harmlessly.
Over the last decade or so the science of backburning has been considerably refined by the Australian fire authorities, reducing the incidence of such operations accidentally triggering larger blazes and increasing the effectiveness of backburning strategies employed prior to and during the bushfire season.