Australia – INFLEXIBLE red tape is putting Southern Downs lives and properties at risk.
Experts are begging the Queensland Government to change fire safety and environment regulations before its “one-hat-fits-all” legislation kills someone.
There are fears countless houses across our region could go up in smoke because home owners are hamstrung by vegetation clearance rules that do not reflect the region’s diverse flora and topography.
Currently, all property owners must clear bush and trees to a maximum distance of 1.5 times the height of the tallest vegetation adjacent to their buildings or 20m, whichever is greater.
If they remove more than this, they can be penalised for damaging the environment.
Often this limited clearance zone means properties are at greater risk of destruction because there is not enough room for fire appliances to enter safely to fight the blaze.
There is also concern that people building on steep slopes cannot have a larger clear area as fire travels faster uphill.
There were 200 fires in the Southern Downs local government area in the 12 months to February 28 – 173 were environmental and 27 blazes involved buildings.
Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland has written to Deputy Premier Jackie Trad asking her to amend the Vegetation Management Act and the Sustainable Planning Act and urging her to meet with it and local firefighters about the Southern Down’s specific legislative needs.
“In a lot of areas, we wouldn’t consider the 20m clearance a defendable space,” RFBAQ general manager Justin Choveaux told ARM Newsdesk.
“The State Government encourages resilient communities by asking households to be prepared for danger,” Mr Choveaux said.
“If a family are not allowed to make their own home defendable, how can we build a resilient community?
“The only options are trying to defend an undefendable space and that puts yourself at risk or you clear around the property while the fire is heading your way and that is very dangerous.
“Being at imminent risk is the only time this extra vegetation clearance is legal.”
Southern Downs RFBAQ representative and Cabarlah Rural Fire Brigade officer Gary Patzwald said the rules meant the region’s volunteer firefighters would struggle to protect some properties.
“We’re talking about the situation where we can’t have one rule that fits all,” Mr Patzwald said.
“The environment around the Southern Downs, Toowoomba and Dalby is very different to the coast.
“We are applying pressure on the government and they can see what needs to be done and someone’s got to bite the bullet and make these changes.”
Ms Trad’s office said the government was considering the RFBAQ’s request for change.
“The Palaszczuk Government recognises the importance of planning for bushfire protection and will shortly release updated bushfire mapping and guidance for councils and applicants,” a spokeswoman for Ms Trad said.
AT A GLANCE
* 200 fires in the Southern Downs’ local government area from March 1, 2016 to February 28, 2017.
* 173 of these fires involved vegetation.
* 27 fires involved buildings and other infrastructure.
* Property owners must clear vegetation to a maximum distance of 1.5 times the height of the tallest vegetation adjacent to their buildings or 20m, whichever is greater.
* For every 10 degrees of slope, the forward rate of fire spread doubles. This means that a fire travelling 100m an hour on flat land will travel at 400m an hour on a 20-degree slope.