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Fire Safety Info

In 2009 the horrific Black Saturday bushfires devastated the lives of many Victorians. Information is available for people affected by bushfires or those who live in bushfire-prone areas. Every summer we are confronted by the prospect of bushfires threatening our lives, our property, our financial security and our communities. The risk is high, so it is important to be prepared. Radiant heat and ember attack are as serious a risk to properties in bushfire prone areas as direct fire attack, so vigilance and preparedness are paramount.

If you are considering building a home, particularly in a less suburban location, then YOUR home fire safety needs to be treated as a priority.

Australia is known for its bushfires, and anyone who has survived, or seen the destruction left in the wake of a major bushfire, knows that bushfires are a real threat to property and lives each and every summer.

Slow recovery after the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria.

It is no longer just a risk for ‘bush blocks’, but also for those living on the urban fringe, in heavily treed areas, as years of successive drought conditions put areas into much higher risk than ever before.

The Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 in Victoria, saw huge loss of property and life, with extreme bushfire conditions that had not been seen before. A ‘firestorm’ was experienced, for which very few were prepared, despite many years of warnings, and preparation for bushfires in outer suburban and rural areas.

If you think your home may be at risk undertake a Home Self Assessment.
Reduce the risk to your home through fuel reduction and increasing the defendable space around your home.
Create your Fire Plan and know what you will do in the event that you are under threat from a bushfire.
New Fire Ratings are now in place, and will be broadcast on days of high fire danger- understand them so that you know when to leave your home.
If you live in a high risk area, attend a Community Meeting and learn more about how your community is coming together to face the challenge.

Bushfire affected households are currently eligible for Solar Hot Water Rebates.

As well as having bushfire plans, to escape an approaching fire, more and more families are examining the possibility of fire bunkers as a place of last resort.

Interim Fire Bunker Guidelines now apply in Victoria.

The first accredited fire bunker is now available to the general public. Read more about the Wildfire Safety Bunker…

In the recovery efforts since the 2009 fires, the residents of the outlying areas of Melbourne are rebuilding with fire protection in mind.

New buildings need fire protection measures to be carefully thought out, and new fire safety info, regulations and standards must be met.

The ‘Fire Ready’ message from the CFA is for households across Victoria to assess their homes to determine the fire risk, as well as establishing a written Fire Plan in the event that their home is threatened by fire.

Having a written fire plan and being ‘Fire Ready’ is essential if you live in an area at high risk of bushfire.

Assess Your Home Risk
Create A Fire Plan

The previous ‘Stay or Go’ policy has essentially been scrapped after the Black Saturday fires in February 2009 when many families unsuccessfully tried to defend their homes in the firestorm.

For outer suburban areas the CFA has identified 52 communities within Victoria at high risk which require Township Protection Plans. The Protection Plans involve educating residents about local emergency contacts, road networks and establishing Neighbourhood Safer Places.

Neighbourhood Safer Places are places of last resort for residents to consider, as a place of santuary should they be at direct risk from a bushfire, and their personal Fire Plan has failed.

The CFA is facing challenges finding suitable locations (like football ovals, or existing areas sufficiently removed from fire hazards and vegetation) in many townships. There are also the risks that people face in moving to a Neighbourhood Safer Place during a fire should their own home no longer be safe.

The Neighbourhood Safer Place is not a guarantee of people’s safety and emergency services may not be present to protect those using the facility.

The issues faced concerning the Neighbourhood Safer Places show why having a Fire Plan is so important so that the risk of getting caught in a firestorm is minimised.

By following the six steps in the guide accurately you should be able to determine your building site’s BAL.

Six steps to a successful BAL assessment

Victoria has endured Australia’s worst ever natural disaster with more than 2,000 properties destroyed and countless others damaged.
As a community we have quickly responded to the needs of the many thousands of people who have been displaced by this ordeal.
The Victorian Government understands the desire for many bushfire affected people to now start the rebuilding process. At the same time, it was essential that the right building measures were in place to provide certainty to people that their new homes, repairs, alterations and additions would be safer with higher levels of bushfire protection.
That’s why Victoria acted to become the first State to adopt the Australian Standard AS 3959-2009 through its Building Regulations 2006 on 11 March 2009.
The new Australian Standard applies to the whole State, and sites are now defined undersix Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) categories from low to extreme. There are increasing construction requirements ranging from ember protection to direct flame contact protection.
This guide responds to the community’s need to determine the potential level of bushfire risk their homes are likely to be under. It explains how to assess a property’s BAL under the new building Standard using its simplified method in an easy six-step approach.
By following the six steps in the guide accurately you should be able to determine your building site’s BAL. However, you will still need to satisfy the relevant building surveyor that the BAL is correct. This guide is an indication of your site’s BAL only.
Importantly, if the BAL is accurate then the appropriate construction methods will need to be incorporated in the design documents and specifications that you submit to your relevant building surveyor for a building permit.
For further information on the new residential building Standard contact your builder, architect, building designer, private or local Council’s Building Surveyor.

A guide to assessing a property’s Bushfire Attack Level (BAL)

The aim of the residential building standard Australian Standard, AS 3959-2009, is to improve the ability of buildings to withstand attack from bushfires. This provides greater protection for the occupants of a building while the fire front passes as well as to the building itself.

The Standard sets out construction requirements based on Bushfire Attack Levels (BAL). The BAL takes into consideration a number of factors including the Fire Danger Index, the slope of land, types of surrounding vegetation and its proximity to any building. The chart below describes the six bushfire attack levels (BAL) that are used in the Standard.

There is insufficient risk to warrant specific construction requirements

Ember attack

Increasing levels of ember attack and burning debris ignited by windborne embers together with increasing heat flux between 12.5 and 19 kW m2

Increasing levels of ember attack and burning debris ignited by windborne embers together with increasing heat flux between 19 and 29 kW m2

Increasing levels of ember attack and burning debris ignited by windborne embers together with increasing heat flux with the increased likelihood of exposure to flames

Direct exposure to flames from fire front in addition to heat flux and ember attack

A site assessment can be made by an owner, architect, building designer, building surveyor or builder to ascertain its BAL, which determines the construction methods that must be used.

The construction methods must be included on the design documents lodged for a building permit.

The relevant building surveyor will check that these requirements are met.

The information in this guide summarises the simplified method for people to determine their BAL using an easy six-step approach. Sufficient information should be provided to the relevant building surveyor to allow confirmation of the assessment. A more accurate assessment can be attained using the detailed method in Appendix B of Australian Standard AS 3959 – 2009.

Six-steps to assess your BAL (Bushfire Attack Level)

Determine your Fire Danger Index (FDI)

The Fire Danger Index (FDI) is a measure of the probability of a bushfire starting, its rate of spread, intensity and difficulty of suppression according to various combinations of temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and estimate of fuel state, all of which is influenced by daily rainfall and the time elapsed since the last rainfall.

Under the simplified method in the Standard there are two levels of FDI that apply to Victoria. The Fire Danger Index is either 50 in an alpine area or 100 elsewhere. Most properties in Victoria will be 100. This will then determine which of the final BAL tables to use to assess your property in Step five.

Determine your site’s vegetation types

Classifying the vegetation type is not difficult. The Standard provides tables that set out in words and visually seven types of vegetation classification. Just look for the description and drawings that are most like your site’s vegetation type in the tables on the following pages.

The Standard does contain some exclusions for vegetation types.

The vegetation would be classified at the lowest bushfire attack level BAL-LOW if it is one or a combination of the following:

Vegetation that is more than 100 metres from the site
Single areas of vegetation less than 1 hectare in area and not within 100 metres of other classifiable vegetation
Multiple areas of vegetation less that 0.25 hectares in area and not within 20 metres of the site or each other
Non-vegetated areas including waterways, roads, footpaths, buildings or rock outcrops
Low threat vegetation including managed grassland, maintained lawns, golf courses and public reserves.

Determine the distance from the site to the vegetation

After determining your site’s vegetation type, the next step is to determine the distance from your site to the vegetation itself.

This is because the proximity of the vegetation to the building site will have an influence on the level of bushfire risk.

You must measure this horizontally from the edge of the vegetation (closest to the building site) to the external wall of the proposed building, or for parts of the building that do not have external walls (including car ports, verandahs, decks, landings, decks ramps) to the supporting posts or columns.

The following parts of the building are excluded from determining the distance from the vegetation to the building site:

Eaves and roof overhangs
Rainwater and domestic fuel tanks
Chimneys, pipes, cooling and heating appliances or other services
Unroofed pergolas
Sun blinds
Landings, terraces, steps and ramps, not more than one-metre in height.

Determine the slope of the land under the vegetation

The slope of the land under the vegetation has a direct influence on the severity of a bushfire and consequently is considered in assessing your site’s BAL. Bushfires have a tendency to move up more rapidly than down hills.

When determining your slope, it is the slope under the classified vegetation in relation to the building – not the slope between the classified vegetation and the building.

Determine the BAL(Bushfire Attack Level)

See BAL FDI 50 or 100

Apply the construction requirements set out in the Australian Standard AS 3959-2009

Now you can apply the construction requirements set out in the Australian Standard AS 3959-2009 that correspond to the BAL.

Importantly, this will improve the ability of your building to withstand a bushfire attack at a higher temperature level, providing better protection to the occupants.

While the Australian Standard AS 3959-2009 will improve protection for new homes, as well as alterations and additions built in Victoria’s bushfire-prone areas, it is important to note that it does not guarantee a building will survive a fire due to the unpredictable and often devastating nature of bushfires.

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Fire Safety Info June 13, 2016

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