Minister For Planning And Environment

 

NSW Government | For Minister for Planning and Environment

Department/Secretary NameDepartment of Planning and Environment
Author’s name/student numberSwanandi Sathaye – 44069685

Minister For Planning And EnvironmentPlanning for bushfire protection at the urban-bushland interface for the State of New South Wales

The complex risk of bushfires at the urban-bushland interface is associated with the process of ignition and progression into urban regions. The intensity of bushfires depends on the topography, inclement weather and the fuel load. Actions for bushfire protection include planning for property location, creation of asset protection zones, hazard reduction burning, fuel treatment and fire suppression.

Key Information______________________________________________________________________

Bushfire threats

Bushfires destroy hundreds of properties, homes and affect vast land areas and numerous human lives in the state of NSW. Bushfire threats can be attributed to the fire-prone nature of Australian bushland, and proximity of life and assets to it. Notwithstanding the threat of bushfires, development in the vicinity of the urban-bushland interface in ongoing despite several urban renewal strategies. Increasing population has been creating stress over land due to rising demands for housing and infrastructure (Little, 2003). Bushfires have significant economic and societal impacts on communities, production and local businesses lasting several years after a bushfire incident. The frequency of bushfire impacts on the urban-bushland interface is expected to increase due to transgression of human population into bushland and intensification of extreme weather events (Penman et al., 2015).

Bushfire legislation

Important legislation for bushfire control includes the Rural Fires Act 1997. The objectives of this Act related to bushfires include prevention and alleviation of bushfires in local government regions and other areas of the State assigned as “rural fire districts”, co-ordinating bushfire prevention and mitigation across the State, protecting people and property from potential bushfire impacts, and carrying out environmental protection as described in the Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991 (Smith, 2002). NSW legislation requires construction and renovation on bushfire prone land  to meet the requirements of Planning for Bush Fire Protection 2006 and the “Australian Standard: 3959 Construction of buildings in bushfire-prone areas 1999”. Non-compliant developments are referred to local NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. Development of a “special fire protection purpose” property on bushfire-prone land requires a Bush Fire safety Authority (BFSA) from the NSW RFS under the Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW Government, 2017a).

Financial Implications_________________________________________________________________

Till date, losses incurred on account of bushfires have been estimated to be greater than AUD 10 million (McAneney et al., 2009). As an example, Penman et al. (2016) indicate that preparing all properties in Sydney for bushfire incidents will cost the State Government an amount greater than AUD 7 million which is beyond its range of expenditure; therefore to prepare their properties for bushfires, residents will need to bear costs equivalent to AUD 10,000 with an yearly maintenance cost of AUD 1000.

Recommendation______________________________________________________________________

That the Minister arrange for Government-funded incentives to property owners who wish to stay and defend their homes in event of bushfires so that the degree of preparation of properties is improved.

Visual Summary________________________________

Source: Penman et al. (2015)

Minister For Planning And Environment

Planning for bushfire protection at the urban-bushland interface for the State of New South Wales 

Rationale____________________________________________________________________________

The threat of bushfires is inevitable due to the nature of the Australian bushland. The threat is intensified at the urban-bushland interface on account of changing human populations and demands (Gillen, 2005a). Bushfire incidents more than often correspond to strong weather events where high temperatures, low humidity, strong winds and droughts become prevalent. The most widely used technique of controlling bushfires is prescribed burning (Bradstock et al., 1998). This technique is a part of priary fuel treatment (Penman et al., 2015). It involves starting controlled fires ahead of bushfires so that it consumes fuel before the bushfire while progressing towards it. However, damage caused due prescribed burning instead of bushfires has been documented in some landscapes (Whelan, 2002). Other methods employed to protect life and property from bushfires include fire suppression which refers to the effort to extinguish or control bushfires using fire fighting equipment including aircraft, helicopters and trucks (Penman et al., 2015). Asset protection zones (APZs) are established beyond the urban-bushland interface in NSW to offer protection to vulnerable human life, properties and valuable assets from bushfires through strategic protection techniques such as fuel management (Gill and Stephens, 2009).

Although these strategies are employed during incidences of bushfires, the success of protection from bushfires is dependent on how people respond to unplanned bushfires. It also concerns the mechanism of bushfires, house material and design, presence of a surrounding environment such as gardens, sheds or combustible materials placed near properties, and decisions made by humans before, during and after a bushfire event (Blanchi et al., 2006). The risk from bushfires is influenced by urban vulnerability induced by humans, and the nature of the hazard (Gillen, 2005a). In New South Wales, contentious politics and an isolation between government institutions across the State have led to the prevalence of taciturnity and a general disagreement over participation in collaborative efforts for bushfire protection and combating urban vulnerability. Issues within governance are evident from unsafe human behaviour during bushfire events and the precarious location of development across NSW near the urban-bushland interface. Despite the fire-prone nature of these locations, the benefits of property possession in such environments are often viewed to exceed bushfire risks. Residents believe that good land-use practices and precautionary measures will eliminate the threat of bushfires (Gillen, 2005b).

it therefore falls upon residents of areas near the interface to protect their lives and property. To increase survival probability, preparation of property and grounds is required. This involves developing a suitable survival plan and purchasing equipment to reduce fuel availability from houses and surrounding environments. Such an investment is required by residents who choose to defend their property actively. However, it has been observed that the considerable costs and time involved limits residents from adequately preparing their properties and grounds. Investment in preparation is dependent on whether or not residents consider it justified in relation to other events in their lives, and whether or not residents perceive the risk of bushfires as substantial enough for preparation. If opted for preparation, people typically undertake the least expensive and the simplest actions for preparation. Other reasons for inadequate preparation are dependence on the Government to provide prior warnings regarding bushfires, relying on insurance cover, and lifestyle priorities (Penman et al., 2016). The decision is also influenced by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) advise to residents where they can choose between staying and defending, or leaving early (Haynes et al., 2010).

Context______________________________________________________________________________

In conjunction with providing funding to property owners to promote adequate preparation for bushfires, some key strategies are recommended for enhancing bushfire protection. These include locating properties away from steep slopes and ridgeline tops, separating new development from bushfire hazards by decreasing proximity to the urban-bushland interface, improving access for emergency vehicles and evacuation operations, designing development so that a minimum number of urban boundaries face fire-prone bushland, long and complex road patterns are avoided, expansion of new development is towards the direction of existing developments and away from the interface, water supply requirements are met by using a “ring main system” along roads which can supply water during bushfire emergencies, and using construction materials which can enhance survival of properties (Little, 2003).

The history of coordinated bush fire fighting in NSW has been enlisted in table 1.

Table 1: History of NSW RFS coordinated bush fire fighting. Source: NSW Government, 2017b.

YearAction
1867 and 1884First mention of fire in Section 153 of the Municipalities Act 1867.

Second mention of “Fire Prevention and Control” in the 1884 Fire Brigades Act (No 3).

1890 to 19121896: First volunteer bush fire brigade established in Berrigan.

1900: Formal record of the bush fire brigade.

1901: 1901 Careless Use of Fires Act passed.

1906: 1901 Careless Use of Fires Act revised. 1906 Local Government Act passed.

1912, 1930: 1901 Careless Use of Fire Act revised.

1919Use and misuse of fire and prevention of fires escaping property boundaries and spreading out of control covered under The Local Government Act 1919.
1930Careless Use of Fires Act 1912 amended to Bush Fires Act of 1930.
1937Bush Fire Advisory Committee established
1940First public display of fire-fighting equipment, prevention techniques, pamphlets, posters at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney, with landholder interviews.
1942The National Security Act improved fire brigade access for protection and vacating properties.
1949Bush Fires Act 1949 passed.
1950The Bush Fire Committee issued a report listing 1,378 bush fire brigades with a total personnel of more than 26,000 people.
1951-52Forest fires at the north of Newcastle, South Coast and Pilliga. Millions of hectares of land burnt in eastern & central zones. Use of radios recommended by a specialist radio sub-committee in 1952 for fire fighting and allocation of frequency
1957Bush fires around Sydney and the Blue Mountains. Significant damage to life and property in Wentworth Falls, Lithgow, Woy Woy, Gosford, Narrabeen, Dee Why, Condobolin and Armidale. Bush Fire Act 1949 revised and the position of Chief Coordinator of Bush Fire fighting created.
1958First Fire Prevention Association established.
1959First residential school for volunteer fire fighters established.
1964-65Fires in Snowy Mountains, Southern Tablelands, outer metropolitan Sydney, Tumut Valley. Wingello village destroyed.
1968-69Major fires in Wollongong, lower Blue Mountains and Roto.
1970The Bush Fires Branch changed to Bush Fire Service and integrated with State Emergency Services (SES).
1975Severe fires in Cobar Shire, Balranald Shire, Moolah-Corinya with major loss of land and property.
1976-77Fires in the Blue Mountains with severe damage to land.
1978-79-80Bush Fire Service separated from SES and integrated with Department of Services. Serious fires in the Southern highlands, and over a million hectares of land burnt across NSW.
1980-81Fires in Southern NSW with thousands of hectares of land burnt.
1983Basic training modules introduced in Bush Fire Service.
1984Lightening on Christmas Day caused fires in Western and Eastern NSW.
1985Phil Koperberg became Executive Officer of the Bush Fires Branch.
1993-94Largest effort in Australia’s fire fighting history with 18,300 volunteer fire fighters deployed at more than 800 fires across NSW.
1997A single Rural Fire Service introduced with Phil Koperberg as Commissioner. Rural Fires Act 1997 No 65 proclaimed on 1st September, 1997.
2001Fire Control Officers became State Government employees on 1st July 2001. Service Level Agreements were developed.
2002Environment Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and the Rural Fires Act 1997 amended by the Rural Fires and Environmental Assessment Legislation Amendment Act 2002.
2007Shane Fitzsimmons became second Commissioner of NSW RFS in October 2007. A new online communication channel called the MyRFS volunteer website started and 10,600 members registered.
2009NSW RFS had over 2,065 rural fire brigades, 4000 tankers, 70,701 trained volunteers at 50 control centres, 2000 qualifies trainers. 118,021 properties protected and 2,773 community education programs conducted across NSW.

Consultation__________________________________________________________________________

  1. NSW Government – NSW Rural Fire Service: Legislative Requirements.
  2. NSW Government – NSW Rural Fire Service: Legal Obligations.
  3. New South Wales – Rural Fires Act 1997 No 65: Status information.

References___________________________________________________________________________

Blanchi, R., Leonard, J. E. and Leicester, R. H., 2006. Lessons learnt from post-bushfire surveys at the urban interface in Australia. Forest Ecology and Management, 234S, pp.S139.

Bradstock, R. A., Gill, A. M., Kenny, B. J. and Scott, J., 1998. Bushfire risk at the urban interface estimated from historical              weather records: consequences for the use of prescribed fire in the Sydney region of south-eastern Australia. Journal of               Environmental Management, 52, pp.259-271.

Gill, A. M. and Stephens, S. L., 2009. Scientific and social challenges for the management of fire-prone wildland–urban   interface. Environmental Research Letters, 4, pp.1-10.

Gillen, M., 2005a. Urban governance and vulnerability: exploring the tensions and contradictions in Sydney’s response to                 bushfire threat. Cities, 22(1), pp-55-64.

Gillen, M., 2005b. Urban Vulnerability in Sydney: Policy and Institutional Ambiguities in Bushfire Protection. Urban Policy and    Research, 23(4), pp.465-476.

Haynes, K., Handmer, J., McAneney J., Tibbits, A. and Coates, L., 2010. Australian bushfires fatalities 1900-2008: exploring          trends in relation to the ‘Prepare, stay and defend or leave early’ policy. Environmental Science and Policy, 13, pp.185-           194.

Little, S. J., 2003. Preventive Measures for Bushfire Protection. Australian Planner, 40(4), pp-29-33.

McAneney J., Chen, K. and Pitman, A., 2009 . 100-years of Australian bushfire property loses: Is the risk significant and is it          increasing? Journal of Environmental Management, 90, pp.2819-2822.

NSW Government, 2017a. Legal Obligations-NSW Rural Fire Service. [ONLINE] Available at:        https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/plan-and-prepare/building-in-a-bush-fire-area/legal-obligations [Accessed 08 November                2017].

NSW Government, 2017b. History-NSW Rural Fire Service. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/about-                us/history [Accessed 08 November 2017].

Penman, T. D., Nicholson, A. E., Bradstock, R.A., Collins, L., Penman, S. H. and Price, O. F., 2015. Reducing the risk of house     loss due to wildfires. Environmental Modelling & Software, 67, pp.12-25.

Penman, T. D., Eriksen, C. E., Horsey, B. and Bradstock, R. A., 2016. How much does it cost residents to prepare their property     for wildfire? International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 16, pp.88-98.

Smith, S., 2002. Bushfires. Briefing Paper No 5/02. NSW Parliament Library Research Service.

New South Wales – Rural Fires Act 1997 No 65: Status information.

Whelan, R. J., 2002. Managing Fire Regimes for Conservation and Property Protection: an Australian Response. Conservation        Biology, 16(6), pp.1659-1661.

David Marks

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