Australia — RESIDENTS in bushfire danger zones should be forced to lodge action plans and encouraged to build bunkers if they plan to stay and defend their property, a new report says.
State Parliament’s Natural Resources Committee has heard evidence that the “vast majority” of homes in the Adelaide Hills would be vulnerable if another blaze on the scale of the Ash Wednesday fires struck the district.
The committee has called for radical new laws following an investigation into the preparedness of properties in bushfire-prone areas.
Total fire bans have been declared in 10 districts on Wednesday as temperatures soar across the state.
The committee’s report also urges the State Government to negotiate with the insurance industry on discounted fire protection for people living in danger areas if they develop bushfire action plans.
The committee was also told homes built since 2009 remained vulnerable in the event of a catastrophic fire, despite complying with updated bushfire-proofing standards.
It recommends that councils in risk zones update planning regulations to ensure easy access to streets for fire trucks and multiple escape points for residents.
It states bushfire action plan documents lodged with councils could include a “simple checklist” on which residents record the circumstances in which they would evacuate.
The committee says the information could be used by the Country Fire Service to assist with forward planning and people should be encouraged to install bunkers if they plan to stay and defend.
There is also a proposal for schools in bushfire danger zones to “buddy up” with schools on the Adelaide Plains to allow alternative schooling arrangements on catastrophic risk days.
Emergency Services Minister Michael O’Brien said he would consider the recommendations.
Natural Resources Committee chair Steph Key said too few people had bushfire action plans but conceded more consultation was needed before they could be forced to do so.
“Depending on the day of the week, the season and other factors, having one bushfire plan probably wouldn’t be enough. It probably needs to be a bit more thought out,” she said.
Ms Key said the committee made several site visits to bushfire-prone areas and she was often left wondering “how the hell people would get out safely” from some areas.
The report says committee members, including Opposition and minor party MPs, agreed bushfire bunkers should be encouraged in the Adelaide Hills but dismissed suggestions they be made mandatory because of the high cost of installation.
Ms Key said fire bunkers could be built under existing building codes.
Family First MP and committee member Rob Brokenshire said the Government should consider bunker-building subsidies for people in extreme fire risk areas. However, Mr Brokenshire said he had reservations about forcing people to develop bushfire action plans by law.
“I’ve got reservations on the amount of red tape it would cause and if it would work in practice,” he said.
“But here we are … after all this time of having told people about the need to develop bushfire action plans, and many still don’t have them.” He said bunkers were increasingly being used interstate and overseas.
Opposition emergency services spokeswoman Vickie Chapman said the Government must follow a recommendation that public agencies clear overgrown land near residential areas.
She said government land managed by councils and agencies, including SA Water, too often became overgrown and increased the risk for adjacent developed areas.
But Ms Chapman rejected calls for laws that force people to produce bushfire plans.
“Frankly, I think the plan (on its own) is completely useless,” she said.
“Having a plan and registering it is inadequate because people need to take personal responsibility to do things.”
She said people should be allowed to build safe bushfire bunkers if they wished to but there was little justification for subsidies to assist their construction.
CFS assistant chief officer Rob Sandford said rather than spending money on a bunker, the CFS recommended people living in bushfire-risk areas invest in preparing their properties by maintaining existing firefighting and safety equipment as a priority.
The committee was asked by Mr O’Brien to investigate if home buyers should be given increased information about the bushfire risk of a property before purchase.
It was forced to cut its work short because of the impending end of the parliamentary sitting year, but says it will take evidence from the real estate industry on the matter.
It says it is unlikely to recommend mandatory bushfire inspections, which were considered but dropped by Mitcham Council.
Total fire bans have been declared for Wednesday in the Mount Lofty Ranges, Mid North, Yorke Peninsula, Murraylands, Riverland, Upper South East, Flinders Ranges, Eastern Eyre Peninsula, Northeast Pastoral and Northwest Pastoral districts.
The fire danger rating in each of the 10 districts is forecast to be severe.