A Chat With A Bushfire Hazard Consultant Part 1

Bushfire Hazard Consultant

Bushfire, in Brisbane? You cannot be serious?   Actually, we are and you mightn’t be aware that you don’t actually need to live right next to a large area of bush to be impacted by the potential risk of bushfire.  And Bushfire becoming a bigger issue by the day.. and it has implications for any renovation or new build project. 

We recently worked on a renovation project that fell within a Bushfire Overlay. To give you some context, this house fell within 5 km for the CBD and was close but not adjacent to Mt Coot tha Reserve ( For those of you not familiar with Brisbane, this is a huge chunk of bushland close to the city).  The owners were shocked to find out that a) their property actually fell in the Bushfire Overlay, (they lived near the centre of the city, and they’d done building works on the property before and it wasnt an issue then so Bushfire couldn’t be a big issue?) and b) that it could have implications, possibly major ones for their project.

So in the interests of speading the word… ( remember our mantra KNOWLEDGE IS POWER)… if you are thinking of renovating you home, buying one or building a new one, you will have (well, once youve reads this post!) heard of the overlay,  you will understand what it might mean( or who to ask, in any case) for your project. Knowing early means that you can make alloances if required to help you stay in control of your project.

We are seeing this overlay more frequently of late so we thought we find out more so chat to a actual Bushfire Hazard Consultant to learn more about what they do and what this might mean for your renovation project.

 

Setting The Scene

WHAT IS A BUSHFIRE OVERLAY?

If your property is located in a potential bushfire area ( Local Council Mapping shows where these properties occur.), it is important to understand the possible impacts a nearby bushfire could have on the property. Being located in a bushfire area does not necessarily mean a bushfire will occur nearby, but rather has been identified as an area with the right conditions to support a bushfire. 

If you want to build in a bushfire area, your home or any new building works may be required to meet specific construction requirements to ensure the safety of you and your family.

WHAT IS A BUSHFIRE HAZARD CONSULTANT?

A Bushfire Hazard Consultant assess the bushfire risk ( bushfire attck level) of a property and provide bushfire hazard assessments and solutions.  If you home fall within a Bushfire Overlay you will need to engage a Bushfire Hazard consultant to be part of your project team to understand what this means for you project. This will form part of your Building Approval Application.

 

Meet Bernie

We have worked closely with Bernard Trembath from  Queensland Bushfire Planning on a number of projects recently, and he kindly agreed to talk with us about the Bushfire Overlay and what it might mean for your renovation project.

Bernie formed Queensland Bushfire Planning in 2014.  With over 20 years in Forest management followed more than 20 years in the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES). He has extensive knowledge and experience in bushfire planning and management and an intimate working knowledge of Queensland vegetation and climate. Particularly in relation to fire prediction and behaviour.

During his time in th QFES, he reviewed and assessed bushfire management plans and provided specialist bushfire planning and management advice on behalf of QFES. This included providing specialist advice to individual landholders, developers, Building Certifiers, Town Planners, Local Governments and Queensland State Government agencies. 

 

Let’s Chat

(This is not an interview transscript but an amalgamation of our chat with Bernie and of other discussions we had with him : )

For the record, this chat is quite long but worth the read ( and listen : ) ) so we’ve broken it into two parts, to give you time to absorb all the information…

This part covers 

Who is Queensland Bushfire Planning

When and why do people engage a BHC

When do you need a BH

Where the Bushfire Overlay applies

What happens if you ignore the Bushfire Overlay

Part 2 will cover:

How the Bushfire Overlay works

Is Bushfire Overlay Australiawide

Does it apply only in the bush?

Things you should consider if you’re in the Bushfire Overlay

 

Our chat with Bernie…

Bernie, how long you have been around fires and fire planning?

BT    A long time! I spent 20 years in Forest management (broad scale production/protection burning) and more than 20 years in the Fire Service (Rural) 

What does Queensland Bushfire Planning do?

BT    Quensland Bushfire Planning provides builders, Developers, Certifiers, Planners and architects with professional assessment and advice that will ensure compliance with Local authority planning requirements. We also provide initial no cost advice to assist with people contemplating a purchase or build in an area of potential bushfire impact to determine feasibility of their project.

 

When does the Bushfire Overlay Apply?

BT    If the council mapping says that you’re actually within the [Bushfire] overlay then it applies. And the overlay also takes into account where any existing vegetation is and in addition to that, there’s also a  100 metre buffer zone that extends beyond the vegetation line.

So the Overlay will capture houses within the 100 metre buffer because the Australian standard states ‘any buildings within 100 metres of accessible vegetation must be assessed.’ So that buffer extends out so your property will fall within the buffer zone.

So ideally this issue needs to be addressed just as soon as you’re told your lot or block is identified as being within the bushfire hazard overlay. You need to address it straightaway.

Buildit   So it’s not just about a house that’s right adjacent the bush that suddenly can get burnt. Is it also about embers and other things that will cause most houses to burn down?

BT    And not not only in the Queensland environment but in southern environment as well it’s usually  ember attack that is the bigger problem. 

I mean the embers are moving ahead of the actual fire front and those embers can move ahead of a fire front for anything up to half an hour before the fire actually arrives.

So just a little bit of burning material can lodge anywhere and if there’s something there that  actually ignite, then a fire can start. And this is what happens. In the event of a bushfire, most houses that actually burn down are probably alight before the actual fire even gets there.

When and why do people engage you?

BT    People engage me when they are advised that their property falls within the Bushfire Overlay.

The usual process is that when people are looking to build or renovate, they go along to their builder, their Designer, their Town Planner who will inform them that an overlay iimpacts their property. This could be a flood overlay or an environmental overlay, a landslide overlay and may also be a bushfire overlay. 

So ideally, this conversation should occur right at the initial stages so that when you get into the actual design you’ve already started to incorporate the requirements for the particular overlay into your design. 

The reason I am engaged to provide an accurate and professional report that will meet the requirements of Local authority and Building Certifiers.

So when should people actually engage you into the process?

BT    Normally if you’re doing a building process what you do is engage me as one of the first things you would actually do, BEFORE you talk to your Designer and certainly before you start talking to a builder. 

Its in the initial planning (or early Design) phase that you should come and talk to me. I can give you the information you need. I can do the BAL assessment and give you the information you need to tell you either that ‘yes’ there is an impact from a potential bushfire risk on your house and it is at this particular BAL rating and knowing this your designer can address the Australian Standard requirements .

At what point do you see unplanned renovations or new home builders getting caught out by the Bushfire overlay?

BT     In most instances, when this occurs, the renovators/builders are well advanced in planning and costing and are then advised by the Building Certifier that the Bushfire Overlay must be addressed, 

At what stage does the Council need to see the compliance or certification against the requirements?             

BT   In a residential situation, BAL is generally required by the Building Certifier. 

  

Can these things be planned for in the design process and what happens if they are not? 

BT    If the BAL assessment is commissioned early in the design process, the designer will be in a position to include and allow for the necessary components. 

But be aware, if you do build and fail to comply with the requirements you will then have to go back and rectify the work. And that can be very significant you’ve got to the stage of completion and you haven’t actually done the work that’s required then you have no option that you have to go back in with and that can be daunting. 

 

That’s it for now but stay tuned…

To give you time to absorb all this information, our chat with Bernie Trembath will continue in the next post.  Check out Part 2 of the chat here.

It covers How the Bushfire Overlay works. Where it applies(ust the bush) is it Australiawide and things you should consider if you’re considering renovating or building in the Bushfire Overlay.

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