Bushfires: Have You Treated Your Risks?

The elemental power and intensity of bushfires can wreak widespread destruction beyond our abilities to control them.

However, we can make ourselves much safer during the bushfire season, and it’s not just about cleaning the gutters.

The resilience of a house or a community revolves around the interaction between the design of the structure itself, the natural environment in which the community is located, the behaviour and habits of the human occupants, and the overall planning and layout of the community.

Planning for emergencies, and empowering people to take responsibility and action, can make a significant difference when it comes to bushfire resilience.

Despite numerous media campaigns raising awareness about protecting your home from bushfires, the message still seems to be getting lost along the way.

A sharply winding Wye River road highlights the challenges faced by emergency services when trying to access properties in fire affected communities. Image Alan March

Here are our five tips for dealing with bushfires:

1. Understand that bushfire risk is not a lottery

There is a common perception that bushfires are unpredictable and out of our control. While this may be true to some extent in the midst of an “event”, the reality is that bushfire risks are highly specific to particular environments and they can be assessed and addressed. While we usually can’t predict what day or even year a serious fire might occur in a given place, we can determine how risky certain locations and houses are.

2. Design matters – design flaws and things to look for

While proximity to vegetation remains the most important factor, the design characteristics of dwellings in their surroundings are also key to their riskiness. On the whole, older buildings are more vulnerable. This is partly because of traditions of building, the limited regulations applied to older homes, and the challenges associated with maintenance – including gardens and outbuildings. Add to this that many older structures are made of wood, and have raised floor platforms allowing embers to be blown underneath floors.

3. Building your home? Take design codes and regulations seriously

In general, new structures or those that have undergone significant change must meet current regulatory bushfire design codes and regulations, based in the first instance on Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) standards. Compliance with the relevant BAL is part of gaining a building permit and significantly improves chances that a house will survive a bushfire, so engaging a reliable and qualified building practitioner is paramount.

4. People’s survival is the most important, then structures…

Okay – you have met the bushfire design regulations, but did you know that your dwelling is not necessarily going to survive a fire? Even though we want your home to survive, the design codes are rated only to ensure the structure will resist the passing of the main fire front.

5. Be aware that circumstances (and people) change

The temporary population of a holiday town on the coast during summer will be far less prepared for bushfires compared with a permanent population such as that in a farming area or those that are engaged with response authorities in ongoing volunteer or permanent roles.

Originally Published by Associate Professor Alan March and Constanza Gonzalez Mathiesen, University of Melbourne, read the full article here.