Bushfire building regulations’ failings

ABC News picture:
Some high BAL-rated homes burnt down in Wye River during the 2015 Christmas Day fires.

Nine months after the 2015 Christmas day bushfire destroyed 116 houses in South-west Victoria’s seaside Wye River and Separation Creek, no homes have been rebuilt. Residents doubt they will be able to afford the $100,000 added to the cost by newly imposed higher Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) requirements.

BAL levels demand the use of certain building materials, claimed officially to give houses the best chance of surviving bushfire. THEY CANNOT, HOWEVER, BE RELIED UPON TO PROVIDE BUSHFIRE SAFETY. The regulations have some extraordinary omissions and inclusions:

  • They ignore the roof/ceiling space.
    – Of the three core vulnerable areas: subfloor, windows and roof space, this is the most dangerous aspect: because it is unseen.
  • They stipulate brick for the worst danger categories,
    – Look at all the brick houses destroyed on Black Saturday.
  • They allow brick veneer
    – Air space between external and internal wall linings encourages upward spread of fire
  • They stipulate that timber cladding must be ‘fire retardant’-which is pointless.
    – The danger to houses only comes from the outreach of flames if vegetation is allowed to grow close.
  • They stipulate metal frames, known to buckle under intense heat.
  • They allow polyurethane for insulation.
    – This killer gives off cyanide gas within 30 seconds of smouldering.
  • They ignore the type of internal wall linings.
    –     though many give off toxic gases when burning.
  • They ignore the type of water tank.
    – Plastic tanks melt in intense bushfires.
  • They ignore the type of farm fencing.
    – Metal picket posts survive and will keep the wiring upright.
  • They designate a site category as the ‘flame zone’.
    To allow home building anywhere near a ‘flame zone’, is homicidal.

HOUSE CONSTRUCTION FEATURES PLAY A PART, BUT NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT, IN ‘WITHSTANDING’ BUSHFIRES. The core aspect of house and personal survival is a thorough knowledge of the pros and cons of planning, preparation and safe reaction.

Neither brick cladding nor metal frames save houses. (Pictures Katherine E. Seppings.)

TO HAVE A BUSHFIRE RESISTANT HOUSE, YOU NEED to first concentrate on lessening nearby vegetation density and flammability (which will reduce ember throw and flame reach) and then on ember proofing. The core areas for ember protection are subfloor, windows and roof/ceiling space. The core aspect of flame protection is cladding distance from flammable vegetation.

FULL DETAILS in the CFA endorsed ‘Essential Bushfire Safety Tips’ http://www.publish.csiro.au/pid/6969.htm

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