Australia — There are no plans to develop standards for backyard bushfire bunkers and such a process could take years, Australia’s peak standards body says.
Barry Eadie, a Standards Australia committee chairman, told the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission on Tuesday that the organisation was not currently looking at any proposals to develop standards for personal bushfire bunkers.
The commission investigating the fatal February 7 Victorian bushfires heard on Monday that standards for bunkers should be fast-tracked because “risky” models were infiltrating the market.
Victoria’s building commissioner Tony Arnel said it may even be appropriate to make bunkers mandatory in high bushfire risk areas.
The commission heard there was an enormous demand for bunkers following the deaths of 173 people and destruction of more than 2,000 properties in the February bushfires.
But Mr Eadie’s evidence pointed to a lengthy process involved in developing standards.
He said a proposal underway for bushfire sprinkler standards was expected to be ready in draft form in a week but the whole process would not be completed for at least two years.
Meanwhile, a review by Standards Australia of its 1999 edition of standards relating to building in bushfire-prone areas took more than nine years, the commission heard.
The 2009 edition was rushed through after February 7, despite disagreement among key stakeholders about some if its contents.
Building standards developed by Standards Australia are referenced by the Building Code of Australia.
Mr Eadie said there were a number of issues surrounding bunkers including whether they should be located above or below ground, have oxygen supply, the distance from dwellings, and have access to and from the bunker.
“There’s certainly I believe cases for them but I think they need to be specific and designed for that location,” he said.
He also told the commission a practical handbook designed to accompany building guidelines in bushfire-prone areas would not be ready for publication until at least September.
The handbook deals with planning, access, water supply, landscape and vegetation issues.
Mr Eadie said the building guidelines on their own would not save a building in a bushfire.
“It’s a whole package of elements that provide that level of safety,” he said.
Mark Chladil, a fire management planning officer with the Tasmania Fire Service, questioned whether people should live in high-risk bushfire zones.
He said it was dangerous to normalise living in places designated as a “flame zone” – the highest risk area to build under Standards Australia’s guidelines.
“It shouldn’t be normalised, it should not be a normal place to live,” he told the commission.
He said bunkers should not be mandatory unless research was undertaken that showed shelters were the only solution.
Meanwhile, a St Andrews resident and Country Fire Authority member who lost a battle to save his home on Black Saturday told the commission he was baffled by standards requiring the installation of aluminium shutters on windows.
Peter Wiltshire, whose home will be rebuilt to higher standards than is required, said aluminium shutters melted when his house came under bushfire attack on February 7.