Fires Ravage Pines: HVP Counts Toll from Catastrophic Bushfire

More than 1,000 hectares of pine - destined for Victorian timber mills have been destroyed in HVP Plantation's worst fire since the Black Summer Bushfires of 2019-20.

Tue 05 Mar 24


An out-of-control fire that burnt over 22,000 hectares of land last month has rendered more than 1,000 hectares of pine destined for Victorian timber mills from a Mount Lonarch estate “unsalvagable.”

That is according to HVP Plantations Corporate Fire Manager Richard Mailer, who told ABC Rural Reporter Else Kennedy that one of Australia’s largest plantation forest managers is now counting the cost from its most destructive fire, the infamous Black Summer fires of 2019-20 (which burnt through 6,000 hectares of its 183,000-hectare estate).

“For plantations that are less than 12 years old, very few products, if any, can be recovered. So most of those areas are a total loss,” Mr Mailer said, adding that “we are hoping that there is a considerable area of an age that we should be able to salvage some of the products.”

The Mount Lonarch estate was subject to a “catastrophic” fire risk late last month. Joining more than 100 HVP Plantation and HQPlantation personnel were 300 fire fighters, people in affected areas being forced to evacuate – footage courtesy of @abcnewsaustralia.

He said that once added together, the damage will have a long-term impact on HVP Plantations plans, adding that “it does become a factor that impacts our long-term ability to supply our customers and maintain those mills that depend on our resource.”

HVP Plantation, owned by a combination of Australian, Canadian and US superannuation and investment funds, is Victoria’s largest forest plantation manager – supplying three million tonnes of softwood and 300,000 tonnes of hardwood to saw millers, panel producers and pulp and paper mills in Australia and overseas.

Victoria is home to Australia’s largest plantation timber estate, with more than 380,000 hectares across the state’s east and west – with the fire damaging compressing a shrinking “wood bank”, which now stands at a 20-year low according to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

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Australia’s total plantation area continues to decline and has been at its smallest area since 2003-04 due to the ongoing conversion of hardwood plantations to other land uses. (Photo Credit: ABARES)

According to Professor David Lindenmayer, who published new research on fire’s impact on forests last month, “Australia is losing more of its wood production forests than anywhere else in the world except Portugal,” Professor Lindenmayer told the ABC, adding that Australia “must use AI technologies to detect fires quickly and then suppress them rapidly.”

For Mr Mailer, fire management remains a “massive priority” for the company after sending 100 staff from across Victoria and as far as Queensland (from its sister HQPlantation business), who “worked day and night” alongside the Country Fire Authority and Forest Fire Management Victoria firefighters to establish control lines and limit the spread.

The company managed to save 700 hectares from a total 1,700 hectares estate, with Mr Mailer confirming that HVP Plantations was “still assessing the total value of the loss” amid a commitment to replace the state with radiata pine later this year.

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Out-of-control bushfires have been burning across Australia. (Photo Credit: BOM, November 2023).

The latest fires are the latest in Australia’s worst bushfire season since the infamous Black Summer bushfires five years ago – with Wood Central reporting in June about a troubling fire season based on reports from three professional foresters who have observed pastoral conditions in Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria.

Late last year, Wood Central reported on the “once in 70 years” fires in South East Queensland and New South Wales, which saw exhausted HQPlantation crews battling fires at its Beerburrum estate.


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