Sep 16, 2014

Five years on from Black Saturday, Victoria drags its feet on bushfire protection

Although the state government has implemented most of the recommendations of the Bushfires Royal Commission, there is still important work to do, writes Crikey intern Andrei Ghoukassian.

Five years after the Black Saturday bushfires that devastated Victoria, the state government is yet to act on recommendations designed to protect lives in schools, hospitals and aged care facilities.


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5 thoughts on “Five years on from Black Saturday, Victoria drags its feet on bushfire protection

  1. Yabba88

    The firefighters know about fighting fires. Their knowledge of preventing or mitigating fires is very limited, and of little value, in much the same way that the bloke who fits a tyre to your car knows very little about tyre design or manufacture. I was a member, and leader in the local volunteer bushfire brigade for many years, and the level of general ignorance amongst my colleagues was disturbing.

    Fire damage to houses can be minimised, and in virtually all cases completely avoided, by fitting roof sprays driven by a diesel pump, and recycling the water sprayed via a decent sized tank. There are no recorded instances in Australia of a house burning in a bushfire where it was fitted with operational roof sprays. The cost of the entire roof spray installation on my house, in thick bush 80 kms NNW of Sydney, was $780. Replacement cost as of now would be no more than $1500, ie 1 year’s insurance premium. Our house was totally untouched in a decent fire that came through pushed by 50 kph north westerlies, which burnt down 5 houses within a 10 km radius. (Watagans) We have bush to 5 metres from the house. House is mud brick and timber.
    Also of interest is recent research showing that Forestry clearfelling and regrowth causes bushfires to be far more severe than those which occur in real, natural forests, like those in national parks.

  2. Yclept

    Just tell Tony that the terrorists are going to start bushfires and money will come flooding in for the recommendations. Easy!

  3. Keifwoki

    Would be nice if the CFA updated their Windows and Windows phone fire notification (fire ready) apps before fire season as well!! Pathetic….

  4. AR

    Phil Koperberg, who knows more about bush fires than most, opined re the Blue Mountains fires last October that expensive updated building regs are a feel-good measure, along the lines of airport security, being seen to do something no matter how ineffectual.
    Or even counterproductive by allowing unwarranted complacency.
    As he pithily put it,”you could have the best building regs available to science, 3 fire engines on standby but if a fire is being pushed at your house by a decent wind, it’s [email protected]

  5. fractious

    AR, as previous Big Kahuna at the RFS, he would know. There is some sense in many of the measures the RFS (under Koperberg’s leadership) came up with in Planning for Bushfire Protection (PfBP) in 2001 (and later amendments), and especially those measures aimed at ‘Special Fire Protection Purpose’ (SFPP) developments (eg. nursing homes, schools – any building regularly inhabited by large numbers of people who are unlikely to be evacuated quickly in an emergency). In many senses these measures are better than nothing (I haven’t seen the figures but I’d love to know the proportion of dwellings destroyed that had virtually no bushfire protection vs. those with), yet I suspect the major test of the efficacy of these measures in protecting life and property is yet to come. Perhaps this year (if the ENSO forecasts come about), perhaps next, but it *will* come.

    The situation was – to the best of my sketchy memory – different in Victoria: while they adopted the provisions of the Building Code of Australia and those of AS3959 for bushfire-prone buildings, they stopped short of adopting the whole shooting match as NSW did, in not giving the CFA the same clout in determining the suitability of bushfire protection measures that the RFS has, and not adopting statutory development guidelines like PfBP. In limited effect the RFS is a quasi DA approval authority, and given that there are many direct parallels between NSW & Vic as far as bushfire behaviour and peri-urban development, the CFA’s limited role may prove to be key.

    Regardless of those differences, even the best system available (the model adopted in NSW) may not be enough. IMO while the power of the RFS as a statutory authority (through the Rural Fires Act and the EP&A Act) to influence various factors relating to individual DA’s, subdivisions and SFPP’s is welcome and better than nothing, it ought to be extended – it’s no good having asset protection zones, special access/ egress designs, standpipes, sprinkler systems yada yada if the entire village is out on a ridgetop with one road in/out. I went to Yellow Rock and Winmalee (lower Blue Mtns) the other day, and the resemblance to Kinglake was eerie. If NSW and Vic mean business when it comes to preventing 2009 and its antecedents ever happening again, then they must allow that some parts of the country should never be allowed to be developed. If certain people insist on their “right” to live in such places, then they must do so at their own risk and sign away any expectation that the state will come rescue them when it all goes off.

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