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Bushfire Protection

Bushfire protection and assessment techniques have moved on. But are the changes for the better.

SCIENTISTS from Australia’s top research body – the CSIRO – have uncovered an odd fact after recent bushfires.

The old ways were better, say bushfire scientists

Bushfire protection and regulations

Older regulations worked better, said the boffins, after looking deeper into a bushfire which raged along the Victorian coast over Christmas.

That’s according to this story on The Guardian website this month.

Now, Tasmania’s climate is similar to Victoria’s. Not a perfect match, of course, but closer than just about anywhere else you’d find on the mainland.

Wye River and Separation Creek Fires

The CSIRO team concentrated its efforts on Wye River and Separation Creek. These are a couple of small townships on the Great Ocean Road which were hit hard by the destructive fire.

A bushfire on Christmas Day destroyed 116 homes across the twin townships.

bushfire protection in tasmania

Most of those were older homes. They’d been built back in the days when bushfire protection and safety standards didn’t even exist.

Before 2003, that is.

But since then, two sets of safety regulations have been launched in Victoria.

Now, here comes the peculiar part.

High strangeness in wake of fire front

Homes built according to the older set of regulations were much, much likelier to survive the Christmas blaze.

Yes, that’s right – it’s not a typing error – the OLDER regulations actually worked better.

Admittedly, it’s a small sample group, but check out these figures:

  • 7 homes were built to new regulatory standards (introduced in 2011 after the fatal Black Saturday fires of two years earlier). Of those,
  • 4 homes were lost to fire
  • 3 homes survived,

which works out at a

  • 43-per-cent survival rate.
  • 14 homes were built to the old regulatory standards (in force from 2003 to 2010), of which
  • 3 homes were lost to fire,
  • 11 homes survived,

which works out at a

  • 79-per-cent survival rate!

What in the blazes is going on?

(If you’ll excuse a pun about such a serious and life-threatening matter).

A closer look is needed at the new bushfire protection regulations, otherwise known as the Bushfire Management Overlay. Especially because – as The Guardian’s Melissa Davey reported,

Compliance can add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of building a home

Building assessments for bushfire risk

Seems as though the new regulations helped safeguard homes only while the main fire front was hurtling through.

But after the fire front had passed, smaller fires remained. These continued to burn. They eventually grew big enough to destroy entire homes.

The lesson? Complying with the bare minimum standards is no guarantee that your home will survive.

Additional measures are required, such as:

  • fireproof building materials, especially low down near the ground,
  • house frames and retaining walls made of something other than timber,
  • wall cavities free of flammable material – in other words, absolutely no straw bales, regardless of charismatic television presenters extolling their virtues as insulation,
  • getting rid of all heavy plastic structures nearby, whether they’re rainwater tanks, garden sheds or kayaks,
  • leaf litter being cleared regularly,
  • a drastic reduction in foliage and other vegetation near buildings,
  • gas bottles stored sensibly, in dedicated positons.

There are a lot of other precautions that can be taken to prevent conflagration.

But they differ for each individual property.

A precise, individual assessment of Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) is needed.

Fire is a destroyer in Tasmania too

Bushfires are every bit as much of a risk in Tasmania as they are in Victoria. See this page on the Tasmanian Fire service website.

Bushfire Guidelines for Tasmania

A separate set of guidelines has been drawn up for this State.

But really, these recommendations should be treated only as a starting point.

Following a set of government-generated guidelines is simply not enough by itself.

You need to enlist an expert eye to spot the dangers.

Don’t gamble with bushfires

It’s just not worth risking serious financial loss as your property goes up in flames, let alone gambling with the lives of your family.

For added peace of mind, the services of an expert building assessor should be sought.

Look for someone with both formal qualifications and practical know-how. Someone who can assess your building first-hand, with an on-site inspection, and provide a rigorous written report.

You could do a lot worse than ringing Mike Westcott on 0407 796 978.

Want to learn more?

Read other articles about the CSIRO report on the Wye River fire:

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