Fire Commissioner Wayne Gregson pushes for parts of WA to be declared bushfire ‘hazard zones’

Fire Commissioner Wayne Gregson pushes for parts of WA to be declared bushfire ‘hazard zones’

27 April 2014

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Australia — FIRE Commissioner Wayne Gregson wants the power to declare parts of WA bushfire “hazard zones” – saying the increased costs it may force onto home builders is worth it to save lives.

Homes in these areas would be forced to abide by strict building codes created after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria.

Mr Gregson said it was “likely” parts of the Perth Hills would join Busselton and Margaret River as declared bushfire hazard zones, a move that could push the cost of building a home in the area up by $20,000.

The post-Black Saturday building codes see homes in vulnerable areas graded in six categories, from no risk to “flame zone” depending on the type and proximity of surrounding vegetation.

If a home in a hazard area is 100m from the tree line it will not have to comply with any additional standards.

WA architect Ian Weir, who specialises in bushfire-proof homes, said a big number of properties in the Perth Hills would fall into the top two risk categories.

That would mean all windows would have to be covered with metal mesh or bushfire shutters, no wooden decks would be allowed, and aluminium is banned.

“You have to almost be thinking about designing a space shuttle, with that level of risk,” Dr Weir said.

“The difficulty might be that the valuation of the property might be based on how many bedrooms and bathrooms it’s got, and they might not be able to rebuild it in the flame zone to be anywhere near as big for the insured amount.”

Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis said people should do the right thing and “build to a better standard”.

“Obviously we need to do something. I would point out that some councils already apply building standards to new buildings in bushfire-prone areas,” he said.

“I appreciate those standards do cost a little bit more but at the end of the day if you do choose to build in a bushfire prone area then obviously I think you should the right thing and build it to a better standard.

“How we get there is a matter for the consultation period.”

A 2009 report of the Australian Building Codes Board estimated that the cost of complying with the bushfire building standards for a single storey home was between $11,535 and $20,885, depending on the bushfire risk rating of the area.

Insurance Council of Australia spokesman Campbell Fuller said it was the increased cost of rebuilding – not the declaration of bushfire risk itself – that would push up insurance costs.

The insurance cost of the Perth Hills fires in January, which destroyed 57 homes, is tipped to reach $15 million.

Mr Gregson said “the scale of losses in WA each summer is likely to be less” if bushfire building standards are enforced.

“The application of suitable standards will significantly reduce the impact of bushfire,” he said.

Until 2012, declaring areas as bushfire hazard zones was the job of local government. Now it’s unclear.

Mr Gregson said the current system was ad hoc, confusing and inconsistent.

Enforcing Australian Standard bushfire building requirements was a key recommendation of the Keelty Review into the 2011 Perth Hills bushfires.

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