As much as Australians relish the coming summer, the warmer months also signal the start of bushfire season.
The threat of bushfire is ever-present in some communities, even in cooler months, as, sadly, many of our most destructive fires are not naturally occurring and are deliberately lit.
Arson was suspected as one of the causes behind the tragic Black Saturday bushfires that swept Victoria in 2009 and claimed 173 lives.
Whilst preventing bushfires –natural or otherwise – is impossible, there are certain precautions that communities and individuals can take to help protect property from bushfire and minimise the damage caused.
Each state has specific regulations and construction standards that must be adhered to when looking to construct property in recognised bushfire prone areas and those looking to begin construction should consult with the relevant fire service to see what the requirements are in that area.
In most cases, this will involve determining the Bushfire Attack level (BAL), which is a means of measuring the severity of a building’s potential exposure to ember attack, radiant heat and direct flame contact.
A helpful guide to the different BALs and how properties are assessed can be found here, and a copy of the NSW BAL assessment application kit can be found here.
According to the NSW Rural Fire Service “the majority of buildings in bush fire prone areas pre-date these regulations, meaning that most existing houses are at an increased risk of damage or loss from a bush fire.”
The NSWRFS has developed a best practice guide to bush fire protection with specific regards to upgrading existing buildings, and whilst these upgrades are not mandatory, they are strongly recommended.
85% of houses are lost from ember attack, and so ember proofing is a top priority for many homeowners and those residing in bushfire prone areas. This involves sealing gaps around the house, removing combustible materials and developing an Asset Protection Zone (APZ), which involves creating a separation between the property and the bush fire hazard.
There are a variety of sealing options on the market, such as these from Raven, but correct installation is crucial for them to be effective.
In the past, windows and doors required additional shutters or fire screens to protect the property, but these were an additional expense and may not have been in keeping with the overall aesthetics.
New technology means that there are now windows, doors and sliding doors available which do not require these additional shutters and screens in BAL flame zone designated areas, such as the new Pyronova range from Schott.
Insulation is one of the more dangerous substances when it comes to bushfires (or any fire) as many drip, burn and melt when heated, increasing the risk of fire spreading and injuries.
Many insulation producers have made fire performance a focus, with a range of products now available, such as Kingspan KoolTherm, that have been specially designed not to melt when heated.
If you are in doubt about what kind of protection a property needs, please contact your relevant fire service: