Landscaping in Bushfire Prone Areas

We often get queries about providing advice on landscape design to reduce bushfire risk. Managing vegetation to reduce bushfire risk is something that all land owners and managers can do.

People that live in bushfire prone areas (which is an area of land that can support a bushfire or is likely to be subject to bushfire attack – such as embers, wind, radiant heat or direct flame contact) are at risk of bushfire impact and should be considering ways to reduce the bushfire risk to the property. Vegetation management is a great way to start.

A bushfire smart landscape isn’t necessarily the same thing as a well-maintained yard. This type of landscape uses fire-resistant plants that are strategically planted to resist the spread of fire to your home. The good news is you don’t need a lot of money to make your landscape fire smart and in many areas, government has introduced mechanisms to reduce the red tape for legitimate vegetation and fuel management

(see NSW RFS

The bad news is that all plants will burn under the right conditions, regardless of how flammable they are. Some plants may develop a dead thatch layer, under a green surface, that is highly combustible such as pines and thick shrubs. 

Placement of vegetation around the home or asset is the most important criteria when it comes to fire-resistant plant selection. Vegetation that touches your home, is in front of windows, under eaves and vents, and/or under or near a deck will increase the likelihood that a home will be damaged or destroyed during a bushfire. To reduce the risk, eliminate combustible vegetation and other combustible materials within 1 – 2m from your house or asset which reduces the potential that an ember can ignite a plant and reduces the potential for direct flame contact to your house to occur. 

In Australia managed areas are known as asset protection zones (APZ) which is a fuel reduced area surrounding a built asset or structure. A well located and maintained APZ should be used in conjunction with other preparations such as good property maintenance, appropriate building materials and developing a bushfire action plan. 

The APZ provides:
a buffer zone between a bush fire hazard and an asset;
an area of reduced bush fire fuel that allows suppression of fire;
an area from which backburning may be conducted; and
an area which allows emergency services access and provides a relatively safe area for firefighters and home owners to defend the property. 

The NSW Rural Fire Service provides good guidance on how to establish and maintain and APZ

The Country Fire Service provide good landscaping advice at:

Blackash provide Bushfire Management Plan and Vegetation Management Plans to assist reducing the bushfire risk and to ensure ongoing management of vegetation.

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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.