Bushfires & living in the bush

Bushfire has been part of the natural environment of the Australian continent for thousands of years. The forest and grassland environments have adapted to accommodate this as have the original inhabitants. The frequency and intensity of bushfires varies throughout the landscape and the seasons. Bushfires are a common occurrence during the drier periods of the year in most places. Climate change is expected to bring longer bushfire seasons to parts of Australia, an increasing number of extreme fire weather days, and increasing fire intensity.

We haven’t had a bushfire here before.

Bushfire loss can be reduced or avoided in some cases, but cannot be entirely prevented. A balance needs to be struck between measures taken to reduce or avoid harm and loss due to bushfire, and the protection of other values including a risk based approach to new development in bushfire prone areas. This is reflected in legislation and framework documents from governments.

Living in bushfire prone areas brings the potential for loss of life, property, infrastructure and community assets. Blackash assists our clients to make informed risk based decisions to meet the minimum Standards established by government. These are minimum standards. Blackash has the skill to work with clients to discuss risk tolerance levels and consequences of impacts. Expert evidence land and environment court

Bushfires of low or moderate intensity often pose little threat to life, property and community assets. However, bushfires that burn in heavy fuels, steep terrain or on hot, dry and windy days often spread rapidly, crown in forests, produce powerful convection columns and create extensive spot fires ahead of the fire front, often making their control impossible for fire services until weather conditions moderate.

As the Fire Danger Rating reaches ‘Extreme’, bushfires are often described as ‘firestorms’ and become impossible to control. When the Fire Danger Rating approaches ‘Catastrophic’, the risk of serious injury or death to people in the path of a bushfire increases significantly. Properties and community infrastructure can become difficult or impossible to defend.

Property losses may be reduced if structures are designed, built and maintained to resist bushfire. An Australian Standard (AS 3959) has been developed to guide the design and construction of buildings to resist the impact of bushfire. Other measures such as appropriate planning controls that influence land use, siting of buildings and the management of bushfire fuels in proximity to buildings may improve levels of protection to less fire-resistant structures. The measures contained in AS 3959 and planning documents cannot guarantee that a building will survive a bushfire on every occasion.

The safety of people may be improved if they have prepared a bushfire survival plan, including contingency plans in the event their primary plan fails or cannot be carried out, and have taken adequate steps to prepare for bushfire.

While all this seems like common sense, our lives get busy and we don’t always think and act on these issues until we smell smoke or see it happening on the news. Good planning, informed decision making and helping others is what it is all about.

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About the Author
Lew Short is a recognised expert in bushfire and emergency management, land-use planning, risk mitigation, consequence management, environment and the working of government.