Protecting your property
Anyone living on the interface with a bushland area needs to understand the potential bushfire risk to their property, and how to reduce that risk. In most Fire Weather Conditions (excluding catastrophic), the only plant communities that are unlikely to burn are rainforests. If there is a wild fire nearby, burning embers (firebrands) will be swept high into the air, and can then fall many kilometres ahead of the fire.
Preparing for a bushfire
All houses in bushfire prone areas need to be prepared. If you live in one of these areas, you need to be FireWise, and know how to protect your home and family.
Every household needs to decide if they are going to leave early, or stay and defend their Well Prepared Property.
You also need to be aware of the NSW Rural Fire Service Neighbourhood Safer Places in your area, and note them in your Bush Fire Survival Plan before a bush fire occurs. You should also know how to get there, as well as alternate routes in case the road is blocked or too dangerous to drive on.
Take the time now to learn about the Characteristics of Bushfires and how they are controlled. To determine the level of bushfire risk to your property, use this Bushfire Household Assessment Tool.
You could also get involved in your local Bushfire Management Committees (BFMCs), which provides a forum for cooperative and coordinated bushfire management within a local area.
The Bushfire Management Committees Fact Sheet provides more information.
Make a plan
Download a copy of the Rural Fire Service Bushfire Survival Plan. Make some time to sit down with your family and develop your own bushfire survival plan. You should complete this plan before the bushfire season. Don't risk the lives of your family - be prepared.
One of the most important decisions you need to make to protect you and your family is whether you will leave early, or stay and defend a well-prepared property.
Preparation is key to survival
- If you are going to leave - prepare for where you are going to go, how you are going to get there and what you are going to take;
- If you are going to stay, you must have a plan for how you are going to survive and where you will shelter; and
- Have a contingency plan in case things don't go as you expect.
Measures to prepare your home and property
- Begin by identifying the potential fire risks around your home;
- On days of catastrophic fire danger, the safest option is for you and your family to leave early. Even well prepared and constructed homes will not be safe;
- On days of extreme fire danger, leaving early will always be the safest option for you and your family; and
- Staying and defending should only be considered if your home is well prepared, specifically designed and constructed for bushfire, and you are capable of actively defending it.
The RFS Bush Fire Household Assessment Tool from the NSW Rural Fire Service website will help you make an informed decision.
Remember to act
You need to act decisively in accordance with your bushfire survival plan when bushfires threaten.
Fires can threaten suddenly and without warning so you must be prepared to act without receiving any emergency warning.
Keep yourself informed
- Know what the fire danger rating is for your area;
- Watch for signs of fire, especially smoke and flames;
- If you receive a Bushfire Alert, take it seriously and act promptly; and
- Look and listen for information on TV, radio, the internet, mobile phones and through speaking with your neighbours.
Asset Protection Zones
Determine whether it is necessary to establish an Asset Protection Zone (APZ) on your property. Your local Rural Fire Service can help you with this assessment.
Remember that there are strict guidelines for the development and maintenance of APZs, and that an environmental assessment must be completed by a suitably qualified person before you remove vegetation.
Hazard reduction burning
If you are on bushland acreage, you may need to consider doing hazard reduction burning.
Your local Rural Fire Service can help you determine whether this is necessary, and may be able to help with the burn.
If you are in a high risk area, you can join your local Rural Fire Brigade or be a part of your Community Fire Unit.
Understanding the terms 'bushfire prone' and 'bushfire risk'
Your property could be in a bushfire prone area, which will impact on the requirements for new buildings, building additions or redevelopment.
However, being in a bushfire prone area does not necessarily mean that you are at significant risk from bushfire, or that council will be doing mitigation works adjacent to your property.
A bushfire prone area is land that can support a bush fire or is likely to be subject to bushfire attack. Bush fire prone areas are identified on a bush fire prone lands map which have been prepared for most councils across NSW.
The map identifies bush fire hazards and associated buffer zones within a local government area.
Bushfire prone land maps are prepared by local councils across the State of NSW and are certified by the Commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service.
To find out if you live in a bush fire prone area, contact your council and ask to view your local bushfire prone land map. This information will also be noted on the 149 Certificate for the property, obtainable from council.
If you live or are planning to build in a bush fire prone area, consult the Rural Fire Service for current information and resources.
The bushfire risk rating for an area or property is calculated by determining the likelihood x consequence of a bush fire igniting and spreading.
The illustration below shows how risk is calculated. The likelihood of a bushfire includes information on past fire history (including arson), the vegetation type, slope and proximity of assets to flammable vegetation.
In 2006, Gosford City Council engaged independent contractors to assess the bush fire risk to private property from the natural bushland reserves. The report, Gosford Natural Areas Bushfire Risk Analysis 2007, is used to prioritise bushfire mitigation works in Gosford City.
Bushfire Management Tools Fact Sheet
The Gosford Bush Fire Risk Management Plan 2011 (BFRMP) is a strategic document that identifies community assets at risk from bushfire, and sets out a five-year program of co-ordinated multi-agency treatments to reduce the risk of bush fire to those assets.
The behaviour of fire in the Australian bush has been extensively studied and described. Here is a brief summary of some of the main factors that influence how a fire will behave:
- The types of plants will influence how intense a fire is. Find a fresh eucalypt leaf and hold it up to the light. You will be able to see that it is covered in tiny dots which are the oil glands. Many Australian plants have volatile oils in their leaves - the eucalypts, boronias and tea trees.
- Fire will travel much faster up a slope than along flat land or downhill. This means that houses and other infrastructure at the top of a slope are at higher risk from bushfire.
- The aspect (direction that the land is facing) will also influence the intensity of a fire. Slopes that face north and west are hotter and drier than those that face south and east. This means that they will tend to have drier and more flammable vegetation growing on them.
- The ambient temperature and humidity will determine how intense a fire is. Bushfires are uncommon on cold winter days, and are easier to control on humid days. A hot, dry day (anything over 28 degrees Celsius) means that a bushfire can be difficult to control.
What is bushfire risk mitigation?
As you can see, the intensity of a fire is affected by a range of factors including vegetation type, fuel load, slope, aspect, temperature and humidity.
In developed areas, the only one of these things that can be controlled is the vegetation. Mitigation strategies that may be implemented include:
- Asset protection zones (APZ): A defined area of vegetation that is substantially modified to reduce the fuel load and potential for high intensity fire;
- Strategic fire advantage zones (SFAZ): A defined area of vegetation with reduced fuel loads;
- Hazard reduction burning; and
- The establishment and maintenance of a fire trail network.
All mitigation strategies have to be assessed for their environmental impacts, and there are strict guidelines for their implementation.
Part V of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 outlines the requirements of environmental assessment for public authorities.
In terms of bushfire hazard reduction activities such as modifying vegetation and prescribed burning, the Bushfire Environmental Assessment Code 2006 provides a streamlined process for environmental assessment.
Bushfire and our environment
Fire has been a major influence in shaping the Australian environment. Over millions of years, the continent has moved northwards and progressively dried out.
The inland seas and rainforests have dried up, and the dry climate experts have thrived, evolving into the array of eucalypts, wattles and heath species that are so familiar to us today.
Bushfire and our Environment Fact Sheet