Building in a bushfire prone area
Effective from the 8th April 2016 the State Government has introduced the Bushfire Planning Reforms to help protect lives and property against the threat of bushfires throughout Western Australia. These reforms introduce new requirements for people intending to develop and/or build in bushfire prone areas, including the need to assess a property's bushfire risk and take additional construction measures to limit the impact of bushfires.
The new bushfire planning requirements apply to all new planning proposals for habitable buildings (e.g. house, restaurant, office, etc.) or specified buildings in areas designated as bushfire prone on the Map of Bush Fire Prone Areas (unless exemptions apply). You can identify your property on the Map of Bush Fire Prone Areas by visiting the DFES website. If your property is located within a bushfire prone area according to this map, you may need to undertake a bushfire attack level (BAL) assessment.
If you are building a single house on a lot/s less than 1,100m you will not require a BAL assessment for planning, even if your house is going be built in a designated bushfire prone area. However, the building permit approval process may still require a BAL assessment or BAL Contour Map. For further information on building permits please visit the Building Commission's website or contact the Shire of Manjimup Building Services department on (08) 9771 7777.
Development currently requiring planning approval will continue to do so. In addition, any habitable building (e.g. house, restaurant, office, etc) or specified building with a BAL rating of BAL-40 or BAL-Flame Zone will require a development application seeking planning approval, even if they would normally be exempt by legislation.
It is strongly recommended that you use an accredited Level 1 BAL Assessor or an accredited Bushfire Planning Practitioner to undertake a BAL assessment, or an accredited Bushfire Planning Practitioner to prepare a BAL Contour Map. The Fire Protection Association Australia (FPAA) is the recognised accrediting body in Western Australia and they can assist you in finding a professional. For more details visit the FPAA website.
Guide for applying the Bush Fire Risk Treatment Standards Residential and Public Buildings.
For further information visit the frequently asked questions page located on the Department of Planning website.
Landscaping in a bushfire prone area
Do you need advice on landscaping and managing bushland? The information below is a guide to landscaping that will complement Bush Fire Risk treatments and Fuel Hazard Reduction measures whilst following the principles of ecological fire management.
Retaining local native plants for biodiversity
There is a belief that native plants are highly flammable and exotic plants are fire retardant. The truth is that both native and exotic can be highly flammable, species selection and placement are the important factors.
All plants will burn under the right conditions, low flammability plants may actually help to protect a home or property. Trees can direct hot winds and embers away from buildings.
As per the Firebreak and Fuel Hazard Reduction Notice, removing flammable material (including branches and shrubs) is required in the Building Protection Zone.
Additional measures, such as removing highly flammable plants (not trees) and replacing with low flammable plants can help retain native vegetation for biodiversity.
Strategically planting of ornamental species in the right location, if adequately spaced can reduce radiant heat levels, for example lawns or small plants mulched with gravel.
Highly flammable plants have the following characteristics:
- Produce a lot of dry and dead leaves or twigs (including leaf litter).
- Can be short lived plants
- Has abundant, dense foliage.
- High in oil or resins.
- Has foliage with low moisture.
- Has loose, stringy or ribbon bark
Low flammable plants or fire retardant plants have the following characteristics:
- High salt content, such as Atriplex and Carpobrotus,
- Fleshy or watery leaves, such as cacti and succulents.
- Leaves with high water content and a low volatile oil content, such as most exotic deciduous shrubs and trees.
- Trees with thick, well-defined, insulating bark.
- Trees which have only a few branches growing low to the ground.
- Trees with dense crowns.
- Trees and shrubs which rarely shed large quantities of leaves and twigs (non-deciduous native species)
- Low growing, under 60cm high.
Managing the Building Protection Zone
Before planting in the Building Protection Zone, contact the Shire of Manjimup Ranger and Emergency Services Department for advice on the Firebreak and Fuel Hazard Reduction Notice and how it will apply to your proposed planting. If planting can be considered the listed native plants, on link below, can be used for landscaping. Remember to follow the Firebreak and Fuel Reduction Notice for spacing and locations.
The plants listed are readily available from most accredited native nurseries. Planting local native species will eliminate the potential for weeds to invade your property.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services have provided the Homeowner's Bushfire Survival Manual, which outlines a number of landscaping designs and tasks recommended to reduce the risk of bushfire to a home or property. This manual explains how different types of plants can be useful for blocking radiant heat and catching embers before they reach a building.
Use non-combustible landscaping materials such as; stone, earth, concrete or galvanized iron for fences and retaining walls.
Managing your bushland beyond the Building Protection Zone.
Correctly managing bushland beyond your building protection zone will ensure fuels are reduced and biodiversity is enhanced.
The following principles of ecological fire management should be considered:
- Choose an appropriate fire frequency for your vegetation type and fuel load.
- Many vegetation structures are fire responsive and need fire to recycle nutrients and regenerate. Break up the area into a mosaic pattern and rotate burns between the mosaics over a 5 – 10 year period.
- Keep fires under 10m high and out of tree canopies for a cool burn.
- Protect habitat trees and logs by raking leaves away from the base.
- Monitor the effects of the burn and adapt your technique each year.
- After burning apply weed and pest management.
See link below for best practice techniques: