Building codes ‘will not protect’

Building codes ‘will not protect’

28 August 2009

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Australia — Strict new building regulations for homes in high-risk bushfire zones will make no difference in protecting houses, according to an architect who narrowly escaped a raging bushfire front on Black Saturday.

“It doesn’t matter what your house is built out of, it doesn’t matter what your roof is made of, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got windows or no windows, your house is going to burn down in a fire like Black Saturday,” Juliet Moore told the royal commission into the disaster yesterday.

It would be better for authorities to put resources into educating people in high-risk areas about what to do when threatened by bushfires and reducing fuel loads.

“On the day, that was the thing that made a difference,” said Ms Moore, who lived in Coombs Road in Kinglake West, where virtually every house was destroyed.

Ms Moore’s house, which was equipped with roof sprinklers, just escaped after the firefront that eventually killed 121 people passed within 10m of the building. She and three others at the house were guided to safety in a convoy of vehicles down a small track by a police helicopter after a sergeant equipped with a radio was winched down to help them.

The inquiry was shown television news footage taken from a media helicopter of the massive firefront approaching Ms Moore’s house and the narrow escape. Ms Moore said the nearby Coombs Road home of retired television newsreader Brian Naylor and his wife, who died on February 7, had been destroyed despite being made of brick and built on a concrete slab.

“Even the concrete slab had turned to dust,” said Ms Moore, who is designing houses for people rebuilding in her area.

“The building standards really in that level of fire wouldn’t have made much difference.”

People should be allowed to accept the risk and live in the type of house they wanted in high bushfire danger areas, rather than be restricted by tough design and construction codes introduced after Black Saturday. “It’s a calculated decision you make when you choose to live on the top of a mountain in the middle of the bush,” Ms Moore said. “We can’t wrap ourselves in a cotton wool and live in a shoebox.”

Earlier, the hearing was told new building regulations, which limited bushfire risk assessments on building sites to a radius of 100m from a planned house, were inadequate and potentially misleading.

Under the new regulations a site would be deemed at low risk, despite a new house being just 110m from a dense forest, building surveyor Stuart McLennan said. The new standards, introduced in March, did not take into account the risk of intense ember attack from vegetation further away than 100m, he said.

This was already causing “a lot of trouble” in areas devastated on February 7, such as Marysville and Kinglake, where the sites of destroyed houses were deemed to be at low bushfire risk under the new rules.

The hearing will resume on Monday.

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