Spring bushfires in suburban areas of the Sunshine Coast in QLD, are a grave reminder that you don’t have to live in a rural area to be impacted by bushfires. The ferocity of these fires in early September, followed by horrific blazes across NSW, QLD, SA and VIC has seen a devastating start to the Australian bushfire season. With lives lost and hundreds of homes razed, bushfire preparation has never been more important.
Severe and extended drought has seen large parts of Australia suffer exceptionally dry conditions, setting the scene for widespread, and severe bushfire threats as we approach the hotter summer months.
Prior catastrophic events, such as the 2009 Black Saturday fires, claimed over 2,000 properties and destroyed the homes and belongings of countless families. With more rural areas being redeveloped into suburban communities, and city fringe living ever growing, thorough preparation is key to staying safe this summer.
To assist you and your clients with bushfire property preparation this season, we have compiled some helpful tips. By sharing these with your clients, you can assist to ensure they are in the best possible position should they face a bushfire threat.
Preparing for bushfire season
1. Ensure sums insured are adequate
If your client’s Strata property was damaged beyond repair in a bushfire, is their Building Sum Insured sufficient to fully reinstate it? Every summer carries with it an inherent bushfire risk, therefore having Sums Insured that adequately protect their property assets in a bushfire is crucial.
To help avoid a significant financial loss:
a) Ensure the strata building is insured for the full replacement and reinstatement value, and
b) Encourage your clients to check that their personal Contents Sums Insured are up-to-date.
If you or your client is unsure about the adequacy of their insurance, contact a Resolute Strata Insurance specialist to help ensure the appropriate cover is in place.
2. Bushfire Prone Areas (BPAs): Understand how insurance is impacted by building standards.
In the wake of the 2009 Black Saturday fires, the Australian Government implemented updated rules and regulations for new constructions in BPAs (as part of AS3959). The regulations set out strict new standards and construction material guidelines to help buildings have a better chance of surviving certain bushfire attack levels.
What does this mean for strata property owners?
a) Check the level of Insurance!
Given the changes, it is highly likely for older strata buildings in BPAs to be underinsured. This is due to the increased cost of reconstruction associated with materials that comply with new regulations.
If your clients reside in a BPA and are concerned about their level of strata building insurance, contact Resolute for further guidance.
b) Retrofit older strata properties to minimise the chance of a loss
To minimise the risk of damage, the Victorian Building Authority recommends that owners of older dwellings engage the services of a registered building practitioner to discuss retrofitting their property. While retrofitting isn’t mandatory, it can help prevent a total loss in the event of a bushfire.
If you or your clients are looking for more information regarding retrofitting a building in a BPA, consult your local state fire or building authority.
3. Keep the strata property tidy.
Dry vegetation and waste around a strata property can act as fuel in a fire. A small spark or ember that ignites a pile of leaf litter, can fast transform into a dangerous blaze, or even create an additional fire front during a bushfire.
Tips to prevent spot fires:
- Remove leaves and twigs from roof gutter
- Cut grass to a length less than 10cm
- Clean up dead branches, leaves, and grass clippings from lawns and garden beds
- Ensure all dry materials have been properly disposed of
- Store any flammable fuels away from the strata building
While the CFA recommends having a 20m ‘circle of safety’ around buildings to prevent fires, this can depend on the property. To be as safe as possible, all strata properties should ensure their grounds and gardens are free of combustible waste.
For more advice on the cleaning up process, consult your local fire authority as per the list at the end of this article.
4. Have a bushfire plan!
Strata properties do not need to be located in a rural area to be at risk from a bushfire. The start of the 2019 bushfire season is proof. Ember attacks can occur kilometres ahead of a fire front. Whether the property is in the vicinity of bushland, a forest, grassland or coastal scrub, all at-risk strata properties should have a clear bushfire plan.
A thorough bushfire plan can help your clients establish clarity on:
- When to leave
- Where to evacuate to
- What to take with them in the event of an evacuation
The ability to think clearly during an emergency can quickly become impaired. Many lives have been lost due to individuals being underprepared and leaving evacuation to the last minute. It is prudent for your clients to ensure they have a plan in place.
Stay or leave? The decision should be part of a bushfire plan.
One of the biggest decisions people need to make well in advance is whether to stay and fight a fire, or evacuate.
If individuals don’t believe they can successfully defend their property against a fire, they need to heed warnings from authorities and relocate somewhere safe as early as possible.
Alternatively, if they decide to stay and defend their property, they must be well organised and adequately prepared with appropriate equipment and resources.
If you or your clients would like further information on preparing a bushfire emergency plan, consult with the relevant local fire authority according to the listing at the end of this article.
5. Stay informed and act accordingly
Throughout the bushfire season, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) consults with state fire authorities Australia-wide, publishing danger ratings designed to inform the community of potential fire hazards each day in their local area. This is something available to check throughout the summer. The system consists of two metrics:
Fire Danger Rating (FDR)
This rates the prediction of fire behaviour, including how hard it would be to extinguish a fire once it starts.
The rating provides information on the type of bushfire that could be experienced on that day, including the type of threat it presents to life and property (on a scale from Low-Moderate to Code Red).
Fire Danger Index (FDI)
This metric measures the likelihood of a fire starting. It incorporates factors such as the dryness of vegetation, temperature, wind speed, and the probability of certain weather conditions such as lightning.
Regardless of whether the strata property is in, or on the outskirts of an ‘at-risk area’, this index is important to ensure your clients:
- Understand the different types of fire ratings,
- Regularly check with their local fire authority for updates, and
- Are prepared to evacuate in the event of an emergency.
Further information regarding FDRs can be obtained by visiting the website of each state’s relevant fire authority, as per the list on this page.
Radio, Social Media and Emergency SMS
A local ABC AM or designated emergency radio station can provide key information for residents regarding bushfires and areas under threat. Twitter feeds and other social media updates are equally as helpful in relaying information during a bushfire.
Take note of the following mobile number – 0444 444 444. Emergency Alert Australia can send out state-wide or area-specific texts alerting affected residents to impending fire threats, the appropriate action to take, as well as a telephone number and website where residents can obtain more information.
Further information on property preparation for the bushfire season is available by visiting the relevant local authority’s website listed below.
Australia-wide Metro & Country Fire Authorities
Click the relevant link to be taken through to their website.
ACT metro: click here
ACT rural: click here
NSW metro: click here
NSW rural: click here
NT entire state: click here
QLD metro: click here
QLD rural: click here
TAS entire state: click here
VIC metro: click here
VIC rural: click here
WA entire state: click here
For advice regarding the adequacy of your clients’ Strata Insurance cover, please contact Resolute Property Protect:
Ph. 1300 668 033
This insight article is not intended to be personal advice and you should not rely on it as a substitute for any form of personal advice. Please contact Resolute Property Protect ABN 53 157 850 827 Licence Number: 425 966 for further information, or refer to our website.