Australia is among the most flammable countries in the world. According to NASA satellite data, there were 4,595 bushfires each week in Australia in 2013! There was a large variance in the type of fire, from small grass fires to the larger bushfires. Some fires are started naturally, through causes such as lightning strike.
Sadly, some bushfires were deliberately lit. The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) has developed a comprehensive bushfire arson prevention handbook. For more details, go to www.aic.gov.au/publications/current.
Almost all of Australia faces above average temperatures and below average rain for this month (December), with damp air from the tropics failing to provide its usual relief.
The Bureau of Meteorology has particularly warned of this trend continuing throughout this summer in New South Wales and southern Queensland. La Nina and its western equivalent, the Indian Ocean Dipole, were the key climatic drivers during winter and early spring.
They have now given way to the “Southern Annular Mode”, a belt of strong westerly winds that circles the Southern Ocean.
Bushfire management is a central feature in various government laws. A primary example is Australia’s key national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
This legislation (federal government) regulates activities that are likely to have a significant impact on nationally protected matters. The intention of the law-makers is to protect unique features of Australia, such as flora or fauna, and particularly animals that are recognised as endangered species.
Tension can occur between land-owners wanting to take remedial or other steps that involve the cutting down or clearing of vegetation in areas that are the habitat of endangered species. The legislation seeks to make a fair balance, and including with the consideration of bushfires and bushfire management.
Bushfire management involves 2 categories:
- Fire fighting: emergency actions taken to prevent bushfires damaging life or property.
- Fire prevention: preventative actions to obviate or reduce the risk of severity of bushfires.
National environment law generally does not restrict responses required to fight bushfires. In the case of emergency bushfire suppression and containment activities, protecting life and property is always the overriding concern.
For example, backburning, clearing of fire breaks, or emergency vehicle access in locations where threatened species are known to occur, where those activities are part of a genuine emergency response, will be permitted. This means that such activities which would otherwise be subject to compliance actions or other penalty under the national environment law will be exempt.
If there is uncertainty about whether proposed firefighting or fire prevention activities require compliance, more information is available at www.environment.gov.au/epbc/protect/index.html.
In Queensland, there is a framework and overarching policy set by the State Government regarding land use and planning. Commencing in mid-2017, the new Planning Act 2016 will establish a new planning system and replaces the existing Sustainable Planning Act.
What are the requirements if I am building a house in a bushfire prone area?
In 2009, Queensland adopted the Australian Standard for the Construction of Buildings in Bushfire-prone Areas AS3959 (2009).
This standard sets out the requirements for all new buildings constructed in bushfire-prone areas.
The Australian Standard for residential buildings applies to:
- New homes or outbuildings of any type
- Rebuilding of homes or outbuildings
- Repairs to part of a building or outbuilding such as garage, shed or fireplace
- Additions to home and outbuildings within 6m of a dwelling.
In bushfire-prone areas, the standard for new homes includes:
- A concrete slab
- Exterior walls, roof, veranda or deck constructed from non-combustible materials
- Sealed wall and roof joints to guard against ember attacks
- Shutters made form aluminium (or other non-combustible material)
- Toughened glass windows
- Fire-resistant-timber door frames, with a weather strip at the base
- Metal (rather than plastic) external trimmings such as vents, guttering and downpipes.
There is no way to completely protect your home from bushfires, but you can reduce the risk by:
- Building in the safest place
- Creating barriers and buffer zones around your home
- Using an appropriate design, construction method and materials.
Read more about building in bushfire-prone areas at