Fire danger maps are being redrawn to prevent development in high risk areas

07 January

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AUSTRALIA – Out of date fire maps are being redrawn to stop development in areas considered a high risk for residents.

A team of experts has been brought together by the Planning Department to update fire maps used by councils and the State Government to approve housing developments and other buildings.

Since 2006 the potential fire danger of an area has been factored in to council approval for homes, tourist accommodation, schools and other sensitive development.

But only 39 of more than 60 councils in the state are part of the mapping exercise, prompting the redraw.

The Planning Department would not say if more councils should be part of the scheme but said new “areas” of bushfire risk were expected for the first time to have strict controls on building approval.

“New and more sophisticated modelling, especially as computers become more powerful, can be done that could mean new areas are included,’’ the spokesman said.

“It is expected that new areas may be included because we also better understand bushfire behaviour, particularly in relation to weather patterns and vegetation.’’

A ban on some buildings can be put in place in the areas of highest risk, or conditions placed on building materials and safety in areas according to “general, medium and high” risk.

Experts drawing the new maps have been brought together from the State Emergency Management Committee, Department of Environment, Country Fire Service and the Local Government Association.

The CFS has also published online a database of 8000 buildings and sites most at risk of bushfire across the state.

In Adelaide only eight of 20 councils take account of bushfire maps in their planning approvals: Burnside, Campbelltown, Gawler, Mitcham, Onkaparinga, Playford, Salisbury and Tea Tree Gully.

The Country Fire Service has also released to The Advertiser grid references for all 6500 fires in South Australia attended by firefighters since the beginning of 2016, to highlight the common occurrence of the threat, and warn the public about the causes.

CFS director of preparedness operations Brett Loughlin stressed nobody in South Australia should be complacent about the bushfire threat, irrespective of fires having occurred in their area in the past.

“Historical information on fires as depicted in fire scar maps can paint a good picture but are not always indicative of future fire behaviour,’’ he said.

“Everywhere outside of the identified ‘safer places’ have been identified as being at risk.’’

Mr Loughlin said information other than maps also should be sought by residents.

“(The path of) a fire which may have occurred in recent years does not provide any guarantee your immediate area will be safe,’’ he said.

“On a different day the fire may come from a different direction and embers may travel and fall directly upon a house.

“A good source of historical knowledge can also be found through speaking to neighbours who have experienced a fire.’’

■ The Planning Department is overseeing a major review of developments in areas at risk of bushfire across South Australia.

■ Fire maps that guide councils and the State Government when it comes to approving housing developments and other structures are being redrawn.

■ The review has been prompted by improved modelling techniques for fire behaviour based on weather patterns and vegetation, which will likely increase the amount of area deemed at risk.

■ The Sampson Flat bushfire in January 2015 was an example of a fire that threatened assets in areas not traditionally thought to be at risk. At one point, it posed a serious threat to Adelaide’s northeastern suburbs at the base of the Hills. Residents in suburbs including Golden Grove, Greenwith and Yatala Vale were issued advice to evacuate following a wind change.

■ Experts from the State Emergency Management Committee, Environment Department, Country Fire Service and Local Government Association are also involved in the review.

■ The Country Fire Service has also published online a database of 8000 buildings and sites across the state deemed to be at a fire risk.

■ The database ranks the sites as being low, medium, high, very high and extreme risk.

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