With up to 3 billion animals either killed or displaced, 40 million hectares burnt, 6000 buildings destroyed and 33 fatalities, the Black Summer bushfires was one of the worst bushfire seasons the country has ever encountered.

Queensland was subjected to further trauma than its sister states, encountered by bushfires that occurred in the winter of 2019, as well as a state of emergency that was declared in 42 local government areas on November 9. By Christmas, fire had swept through 7.7 million hectares of land in the south, north and far north of the state.

Justin Leonard, the lead researcher for the CSIRO’s Bushfire Adaptation program, says that there is a varying level of knowledge in rural communities surrounding bushfires, and that information and legislation must become easily recalled for those that live in homes vulnerable to bushfire.

“The gap between the small proportion of the community that have a deep knowledge of how to manage their surrounds in a bushfire and the rest is not narrowing over time,”  Leonard says.

“We need to design houses that can survive fire without defending them, and this can only happen if people have a deep understanding of how fire interacts with the house. So, understanding how bushfires behave and impact buildings is essential.”

In conjunction with the Queensland Government, and led by Leonard’s team, the CSIRO has devised a 10-Step Bushfire Resilient Building Guidance for Queensland Homes.

A broad coalition of agencies and experts has contributed to the guideline, from the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, to local government, and James Davidson architects.

The steps of the new bushfire guidelines begin with learning the “essentials” about bushfires and their behaviour and culminate with maintaining bushfire-resilient properties in ways intended to become as natural for Queenslanders as swimming between the flags.

Below is a summarised version of the ten steps. You can access the Bushfire Resilience Building Guidance for Queensland Homes in full here.

Step 1: Bushfire Essentials

Encourages homeowners in fire-prone areas to know the environments in which bushfires occur, the different types of fires and how buildings are typically impacted, and how to assess hazards in and around a property.

Step 2: Bushfire Survival Plan

Already familiar to safety-minded residents in bushfire-prone areas, the guideline highlights the importance of developing a bushfire plan to protect occupants and prepare a home to survive a bushfire.

Step 3: Bushfire Hazard Assessment

Unlocks tools to understand the bushfire hazard at people location, such as bushfire risk postcode checkers, bushfire prone area location, and tools to calculate potential radiation levels (including Bushfire Attack Level, BAL) , as well as busting myths around bushfires – for instance, that removing trees is the best way to slow the spread of fire

Step 4: Building Category

Categorises projects into building a new house or fixed structure; retrofitting an existing house or structure; and landscaping the area around a new or existing house or structure.

Step 5: Siting & Site Layout

Emphasises the importance of choosing the best locations for buildings on the available land, while making considerations for bushfire resilience, site access, and aesthetic values and preferences.

Step 6: Bushfire Resilient Design Principles

Provides a toolbox of design solutions that are graded into four levels of protection, with Level Four designed to guard against ember attack, burning debris, fine fuel surface fire of any height, direct flame contact from a bushfire front, and “consequential fires” such as a car or neighbourhood house burning down.

Step 7: Bushfire Resilient Construction

Informs homeowners about bushfire-resilient construction systems including those for walls, floors, roofs, windows, doors and verandas and decks and provides examples of construction design.

Step 8: Bushfire Resilient Materials

Identifies the main material used in common building types, such as concrete, masonry, cladding and decking and describes the advantages and disadvantages of the material to reduce ignition from embers, radiant heat and flame.

Step 9: Bushfire Resilient Landscaping

Encapsulates fire-resistant landscaping advice from garden layout and the right plants, to landscaping that shield can a home from embers, heat, flame and wind.

Step 10: Maintenance

Outlines useful habits to adopt at home including keeping twigs and leaves out of rooftops and gutters, checking gutters and roof tiles for damage, clearing vents of debris, preserving the seal between roof and wall junctions, and keeping roof cavities clear of combustible materials.

Image: CSIRO