Protect your home from bushfires: Part 1
Making a home safe in a bushfire prone area starts with the basics: creating a defendable space and removing excess vegetation.
If you live in a bushfire-prone area, just how should a homeowner protect their home? That’s exactly what one reader asked us recently – and we asked renowned bushfire advisor and expert, Norm Winn.
Create a defendable space around the home
To start with, it is critical that a homeowner recognises they live in a bushfire-prone area. This is a complex subject and planning from the outset is critical. Once they have acknowledged there is a risk, one of the first considerations in fireproofing a home is vegetation. If a home is to be built in a bushfire-prone area there must be a defendable space between it and vegetation. That space will ensure direct flames or radiant heat don’t impact on the home.
Ideally, you want a defendable area of 60 to 70 metres between the home and forested areas.
That is, large and plentiful trees and fairly dense undergrowth should be at least 60-70 metres from the home. Isolated trees and small shrubs are not so problematic and can be within that defendable space. It is also essential that no limbs or tree canopies overhang the dwelling; preferably they should be at least 10 clear metres away (although in small allotments this may not be achievable).
60 to 70 metres may seem like a large area but homeowners need to be aware that whenever there is a bushfire, ember attacks will occur. Embers are blown by strong winds and can travel distances of up to a kilometre. So by planning for a large defendable space between the home and a possible bushfire, you minimise the impact of direct flame and radiant heat impact, and the possibility of ember attacks.
Remove excess vegetation from the garden
The next key factor to manage in bushfire safety is ground level vegetation. What few people realise is that the ground level vegetation in forested areas – the undergrowth and understory – is what creates a very hot bushfire.
So prior to the Fire Danger Period (mostly between November and April but varies by locality and State) make sure that grass is shorter than 100mm. Also remove any leaves, bark or other flammable ground material surrounding the dwelling. This is an ongoing need throughout the Fire Danger period.
As well as clearing the ground, look out for other excessive vegetation. Clean out gutters and ensure that downpipe plugs are available so that gutters can be filled with water should a bushfire occur. Have a look to see whether embers and sparks could get in under the dwelling, through vents, eave lines or spout areas under the roof lining. And ensure that windows are sturdy – you don’t want them breaking if hit by large flying embers or just cracking under the impact of heat.
Also, be aware that some shrubs and plants are less flammable than others. Any mulch in the garden, for example, should be non-flammable. We have a great practice in this country of spreading tan bark around the garden, yet tan bark is the greatest ember trap you can get. Instead, when looking for mulch, seek out crushed tiles, blue metal or quartz and other non-combustible materials.
More information on bushfire safety
The Australian Standard, AS3959 – 2009 [and Amendments], provides the basic guidelines for building in Bushfire Prone areas. Various State Legislative requirements within Planning and Building Regulations, coupled with the Building Code of Australia and Fire Service approvals, both guide and determine Bushfire safety for new and home renovations.
For more information on fire safety, and creating a fire plan, contact your local Fire Brigade or the Fire Service in your State.
Norm Winn is chair of the Australian Standards Committee for Emergency Planning in Facilities. With over 30 years’ experience with the Country Fire Authority and 20 years as a consultant, he runs his own Victoria-based fire safety consultancy, Norm Winn & Associates Pty Ltd.