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Cutting, Using and Buying Timber Salvaged From a Bushfire Area: Tips to Consider

If a bushfire has burnt around your home, you may be looking at the destruction, wondering if there is someway you can salvage some of the remaining timber and use it for firewood, building or other uses. Generally, it is possible to salvage timber from burnt forests, but there are several legal, ecological and logistical issues you should keep in mind. Whether you ultimately decide to salvage your own timber from one of these areas or buy timber from a company like Hayter's Timber & Paving, here are some tips to keep in mind.

1. Check local rules on logging.

Before heading into a forest after a fire or at any other time, make sure you have the right permits and permissions. For example, in Western Australia, you are not allowed to log. However, you can collect up to one tonne of firewood every 60 days, but you can only take fallen timber. You cannot cut down trees, dead or alive.

2. Harvest the trees on your land.

Whether the fire has raged on your land or not, if you live in a bushfire area, you are allowed to cut down trees and harvest the timber on your own land, but you have to follow the applicable rules in your area. For example, if you live in New South Wales, the 10/50 rule allows you to cut down all trees within 10 metres of buildings of your property and remove brush from within 50 metres of buildings on your property.

Typically, this rule applies to fire mitigation, but if there has already been a fire, you can still take advantage of this rule as you try to salvage some timber from the wreckage. However, you need to act quickly. If the damaged trees start rotting or become investing with insects or fungus, the timber won't be useable.

3. Defer to building codes regarding the use of timber in bushfire areas.

The government has specific building codes regarding which types of timber can be used in areas prone to bushfires. Whether you have salvaged your own timber or bought timber that has been salvaged by professional loggers, you need to ensure it meets the building standards for your area.

Namely, the timber needs to be treated with fire retardants, or it needs to be a species that is naturally resistant to fire. Timber species that fit into the latter category include blackbutt, merbau, spotted gum, silvertop ash, turpentine and a few others.

4. Vet timber suppliers to assess their timber salvage strategies.

If you decide that you want to use timber that has been salvaged from an area devastated by a bushfire, vet how your supplier handled its logging operations to ensure the actions are in line with your environmental philosophies.

In most cases, it's sustainable to use timber that has been salvaged from a burn area, but ideally, you want a logger who tries to err on the side of caution and preservation -- meaning that if they are deciding to cut down a tree, they only cut it down if they are sure it's going to die. If they think a tree in a burn area has a chance of living, sustainable loggers leave it in place.

Environmentally respectful loggers in burn areas also leave green trees intact so that they can help to repopulate the forest, and they make sure to leave a few dead trees as well as snags (fallen dead trees) in place to provide shelter to animals, insects and other creatures critical to the biodiversity of the area.

Seeing a forest that has been decimated by wildfires can feel tragic, especially if it's surrounding your home. However, you can still utilise these areas for timber harvesting, giving a small silver lining to this cloud. Before cutting, buying or using salvaged timber, you simply need to consider the rules and ecological facts discussed above.