Abel Ecology ecological consultants has a team of trained bushfire consultants, with years of experience in providing advice (BAL reports) regarding construction in bushfire prone areas.
We now have a web-based, interactive radiant heat calculator to assist bushfire planners and consultants, which enables performance-based solutions based on site-specific conditions. Performance-based solutions are to be used specifically for infill developments that have to be built in flame zone conditions.
A means of measuring the severity of a buildings potential exposure to ember attack, radiant heat and direct flame contact, using increments of radiant heat expressed in kilowatts per metre squared, which is the basis for establishing the requirements for construction to improve protection of building elements from attack by bush fire.
BAL Risk Assessment (BAL report).
This is a site specific assessment procedure (BAL report) that is required as part of the complying development process. It provides a rating based on the expected level of bush fire attack in accordance with AS3959-2009 and Addendum Appendix 3 of Planning for Bush Fire Protection 2006.
Determining your BAL.
Determine the BAL that applies to the building for each direction. Of the BALs determined for each direction, select the one that provides the highest protection as this will apply to the entire building.
For most vegetation types, buildings more than 100m from the bush fire prone vegetation do not require any specific construction requirements. However, homeowners are encouraged to provide basic measures such as suitable window screening and gutter guards to minimise the impacts of ember attack.
Where a building is to be constructed close to bush fire prone vegetation, Australian Standard AS3959 describes the construction standards to protect against any bush fire attack. These are an acceptable construction solution where construction requirements are known, tried and tested and easily achieved at the construction stage.
Those buildings which can provide the separation distances to achieve BAL-12.5 to BAL -29 will be regarded as lower risk and may potentially be considered as complying development.
BAL-40 and Flame Zone.
Where buildings are unable to meet the separation distances for BAL-12.5 to BAL-29 (ie BAL-40 or BAL-FZ) they will be regarded as higher risk development and will no longer be eligible to be considered complying development. They will require special design and construction solutions supported by evidence of satisfactory performance. Expert assistance from a bushfire consultant may be required in designing and assessing this type of building.
If your property's bushfire attack level is certified as BAL-40 or BAL-FZ, you are unable to comply with the requirements for complying development and will need to submit a Development Application through your local council in order to potentially obtain Development consent.
Heat flux exposure and appropriate bush fire attack levels.
Reference: NSW Rural Fire Service - BAL risk assessment Application Kit (2011)
Setbacks for Special Fire Protection Purposes in bushfire prone areas.
The following table gives calculated values of Asset Protection Zones (setback distances) for Special Fire Protection Purposes (< 10kW m2). Fire Danger Index (FDI) 100 is assumed except where indicated (see the explanatory notes following the Table). Values have been derived using our Radiant Heat Calculator (Abel Ecology).
Table values are based on the updated fuel loadings specified in Table B2 of AS 3959 (2009). In several cases (eg Forest & Woodland), fuel loadings are up to 10t/Ha greater than specified previously in PBP 2006 (Table A2.1 in Appendix 2, P.54), thereby significantly increasing setback distances. In some cases (eg Short Heath) there is no change.
Fire Danger Index (FDI) VALUES
# Tall Heath, Short Heath, Freshwater Wetlands & Arid Shrublands. These do not use FDI in the calculation of setbacks. That is, setbacks (and radiant heat values) are independendt of the FDI for these vegetation categories. While Arid Shrubland normally used FDI 80 (the others can use 80/100), FDI 100 has been used for the other three in the above Table.
Semi-Arid Woodland uses FDI 80.
Grassland uses FDI 130, the 'deemed' value replacing the previously used value of FDI 100.
Alpine Resorts. Values have been calculated for Forest only, using FDI 50; values for other vegetation types will vary considerably (refer to Table A3.5 of PBP 2006 as a guide).
Freshwater Wetlands. Whereas PBP 2006 used fuel loadings of 15/15 t/Ha, giving the same setbacks as 'Short Heath' (Table A2.6 of Appendix 3). AS3959 uses loadings of 25/25 t/Ha, giving the same significance as 'Tall Heath'. This is a significant difference.
* Semi-Arid Woodland. FDI 80 is assumed for this vegetation - it does not occur on the east coast (FDI 100 areas). Otherwise, FDI 100 gives the same values as for Woodlands (Grassy).
% Tussock Moorland (Alpine). FDI 50 is assumed for this vegetation (occurs only in Tasmania).
Calculated values (in brackets) have been rounded up or down to the nearest step of 5 (for < 2.5 absolute difference, round down - for a 2.5 difference, round up).
This seems to follow the convention in PBP 2006. For example, the setback distance for Forest on level slope with FDI 100, temperature of 1200, calculates to be 61.6m setback but is rounded down to 60m (in PBP 2006, p.58).
We have developed a user-friendly calculator to enable fire planners to predict fire behaviour, which is based on the algorithm in AS3959-2006. The calculator can be used for the purposes of "Planning for Bush Fire Protection 2006". The model has been the basis of our fire hazard analyses since 2009 in consultancy applications.
Call us (1800 99 55 26) or email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like us to run radiant heat calculations for you.
User inputs include:
Note: Preset values (inputs) for vegetation type and fuel loads are used in the calculations. Similar values will be provided for particular regions as those figures become available. Those figures can be used as user-defined inputs.
Additional values required only for 'Shrub & Heath'
How does the Bushfire Assessment Process work?
All Development Applications that occur on Bushfire Prone Property need to be assessed under the Environmental Protection and Assessment (EP&A) Act and the Rural Fires (RF) Act. In the sections below we have excerpts of the relevant parts of these Acts.
Use the following check list to see what you need to do:
(1) Is the land Bush Fire Prone? See your Council for the Bush Fire Prone Land Map – this is available on the internet for most councils.
a) No map is available: Go to (2)
b) No: no further action is required. Submit your DA.
c) Yes: Go to (2)
(2) What kind of development do you propose?
a) My own new home, or an extension or alteration: Go to (3)
b) Any other development: Go to (4)
(3) Make your own submission using the RFS document, Guidelines for Single Dwelling Development Applications available on the RFS website.
a) No vegetation is to be cleared: proceed with your DA.
b) Vegetation needs to be cleared: Go to (4)
(4) Engage a suitably qualified and experienced bushfire consultant. If you require land to be cleared for your development application, you need to engage a bushfire consultant who is also a qualified ecologist, so that you get an integrated, cost effective outcome.
The NSW Rural Fire Service has introduced an updated, comprehensive framework for planning and development, in order to protect life and property from the threat of bushfires. This is designed as a proactive approach to limiting the damage bushfires cause to life and property, by ensuring that new development in bushfire prone areas is well planned and safe.
The document Planning for Bush Fire Protection is designed to interpret the current legislation and enable developers, including homeowners, to submit correct and relevant information with a development application. This applies to "Bushfire Prone Land" which is identified on maps held by Local Councils and the Rural Fire Service.
Planning for Bush Fire Protection (2006) (and in particular the addendum Appendix 3 for that document), sometimes referred to as PBP 2006, is used in conjunction with AS3959 (2009) to determine assessments.
The Rural Fire Service (RFS) has minimum requirements that are to be considered when designing a proposal, and for making a submission for the issue of a Bushfire Safety Authority certificate. Infill developments, such as a single dwelling, require certification.
Our team includes staff trained and experienced in bushfire management and research. Our experience covers a wide range of matters, including golf courses, industrial development, residential and rural subdivision, SEPP 5 Aged care development, schools and domestic residences.
Asset Protection Zones (APZ) for bushfire hazard consist of two parts, which are:
A Rural Fire Service table of distances considers the slope of land above and below your buildings, next to forest and other vegetation.
The distance from a building to a fire hazard can affect both the architecture and building materials used.
If you intend to build a romantic mountain cottage, or subdivide, RFS and Council will require a bushfire report for your construction, and Council requires a flora and fauna report to deal with the effects of your proposal on the surrounding area.
Developments such as schools, places of worship, and tourist accommodation are all assessed differently from residential uses, and fall under the category of Special Protection Developments. A common error is to use the wrong table of clearances when Special Protection Developments are assessed.
Clearing of Native Vegetation
Clearing vegetation to create an asset protection Zone is activity that requires consent under Section 79C of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 No 203, as follows:
(1) Matters for consideration—general
In determining a development application, a consent authority is to take into consideration such of the following matters as are of relevance to the development the subject of the development application:
(a) the provisions of:
(i) any environmental planning instrument, and
(ii) any draft environmental planning instrument that is or has been placed on public exhibition and details of which have been notified to the consent authority, and
(iii) any development control plan, and
(iv) the regulations (to the extent that they prescribe matters for the purposes of this paragraph), that apply to the land to which the development application relates,
(b) the likely impacts of that development, including environmental impacts on both the natural and built environments, and social and economic impacts in the locality,
(c) the suitability of the site for the development."
Consent for clearing may be granted as part of the consent process for your Development Application. However, such consent can only be granted if you have provided an assessment of the impact of that clearing.
You will be required to provide a flora and fauna impact assessment report which consists of:
The flora and fauna impact assessment report must be prepared by a suitably qualified person, and address the appropriate questions in the Seven Part Test (Section 5A, EP&A Act). A suitably qualified person is a professional ecologist who is a member of a recognised professional body, for example the Ecological Consultants Association of NSW Inc. (www.ecansw.org.au). An arborist, tree surgeon, bushfire consultant or bush regenerator is not a qualified person.
There are many ways to manage the hazard posed by a build up of flammable material in bushland. Techniques include slashing, mulching, lopping of canopy, raking and manual removal of fallen branches. Burning of bushland is a common technique employed by RFS local brigades. As a landowner, you are required to manage your land so that it does not pose a hazard to your neighbours (Section 63(2) of the Rural Fires Act 1997 No. 65).
S.63(2) of the Rural Fires Act 1997 No 65 states, "It is the duty of the owner or occupier of land to take the notified steps (if any) and any other practicable steps to prevent the occurrence of bush fires on, and to minimise the danger of the spread of bush fires on or from, that land."
Your neighbour may ask RFS to enforce hazard reduction on your land. Consideration must be given to ecological values such as habitat for threatened species and endangered ecological communities. NSW Office of Environment and Heritage is in the process of preparing Recovery Plans for these matters, and these plans will include bushfire as a management component.
We offer an hourly consultation as a cost effective means to prepare a submission to council.
Development consent for a single dwelling on bushfire prone land may be granted by your local council if it is satisfied that the development conforms to the specifications and requirements of Planning for Bush Fire Protection. If your development does not comply, then Council must consult with RFS before a decision is taken on your application.
Warning: A bushfire hazard assessment may affect the design of your house, so it is unwise to make commitments either to a design or to a builder before finding the constraints imposed by bushfire hazards.
Infill Development or other Development
(Addition, Alteration, new home on an existing Lot)
Section 79BA of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 No 203 states:
"79BA Consultation and development consent - certain bush fire prone land
(1) Development consent cannot be granted for the carrying out of development for any purpose (other than a subdivision of land that could lawfully be used for residential or rural residential purposes or development for a special fire protection purpose) on bush fire prone land unless the consent authority:
(a) is satisfied that the development conforms to the specifications and requirements of the document entitled Planning for Bushfire Protection, ISBN 0 9751033 2 6, prepared by the NSW Rural Fire Service in co-operation with the Department of Planning (or, if another document is prescribed by the regulations for the purposes of this paragraph, that document), that are relevant to the development ("the relevant specifications and requirements"), or
(b) has been provided with a certificate by a person who is recognised by the NSW Rural Fire Service as a qualified consultant in bush fire risk assessment stating that the development conforms to the relevant specifications and requirements.
(1A) If the consent authority is satisfied that the development does not conform to the relevant specifications and requirements, the consent authority may, despite subsection (1), grant consent to the carrying out of the development but only if it has consulted with the Commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service concerning measures to be taken with respect to the development to protect persons, property and the environment from danger that may arise from a bush fire.
(2) In this section:
"special fire protection purpose" has the same meaning as it has in section 100B of the Rural Fires Act 1997."
(Integrated Development, Schools, SEPP 5, etc.)
Section 100B of the Rural Fires Act 1997 No 65 states:
"100B Bush fire safety authorities
(1) The Commissioner may issue a bush fire safety authority for:
(a) a subdivision of bush fire prone land that could lawfully be used for residential or rural residential purposes, or
(b) development of bush fire prone land for a special fire protection purpose.
(2) A bush fire safety authority authorises development for a purpose referred to in subsection (1) to the extent that it complies with standards regarding setbacks, provision of water supply and other matters considered by the Commissioner to be necessary to protect persons, property or the environment from danger that may arise from a bush fire.
(3) A person must obtain such a bush fire safety authority before developing bush fire prone land for a purpose referred to in subsection (1).
(4) Application for a bush fire safety authority is to be made to the Commissioner in accordance with the regulations.
(5) Development to which subsection (1) applies:
(a) does not include the carrying out of internal alterations to any building, and
(b) is not complying development for the purposes of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, despite any environmental planning instrument.
(6) In this section:
special fire protection purpose means the purpose of the following:
(a) a school,
(b) a child care centre,
(c) a hospital (including a hospital for the mentally ill or mentally disordered),
(d) a hotel, motel or other tourist accommodation,
(e) a building wholly or principally used as a home or other establishment for mentally incapacitated persons,
(f) housing for older people or people with disabilities within the meaning of State Environmental Planning Policy No 5 - Housing for Older People or People with a Disability,
(g) a group home within the meaning of State Environmental
(h) a retirement village,
(i) any other purpose prescribed by the regulations."
We recommend that prior to purchase of land for a development, a constraints plan be prepared to identify opportunities and constraints that a bushfire assessment may provide on land. The factors that we take into account include intended use of a site, site characteristics, statutory requirements and design opportunities.
While many Australian plants and animals have adapted to the occurrence of fire, a common misconception arising from this is that the bush can be frequently burnt, and burnt at any time. This is known to be incorrect.
A better way to think of our natural flora and fauna is that they can survive an appropriate fire regime. This means that there are times when it is acceptable for the bush to burn, and times when it isn't.
What is the best way to understand the impact of fire on ecological communities?
A long term perspective is the best way to look at the impact of fire. Also, an understanding of how local species either respond to, or cope with, a fire event, or a long term fire history, will drive our management choices. Since our main aim is to maintain biodiversity, we need to avoid burning species to extinction. This requires us to ask what fire regime each native species can best live with.
Another common misconception is that some frogs (for example Red-crowned Toadlets) are adapted to fire. This is not correct. A hazard reduction burn at the wrong time can kill an entire population of breeding individuals. Breeding often coincides with ideal hazard reduction burn season. They also respond badly to drip torch fluid being poured into a breeding site. In conditions that are conducive to a wildfire in summer, Red-crowned Toadlets are likely to be safely underground and thus safe from burning. A simple change to a burn strategy can achieve both maintenance of fauna habitat and reduction of the fuel hazard.
Waratahs are known to flower vigorously after fire. Of course, flowers can produce fruit with lots of seed, so in the past Waratahs were burnt frequently, in the belief that this was good for them. The trouble is, frequent fire kills juvenile plants, which are not old enough to survive any fire. They may take up to ten years to become fire tolerant adults. Thus, frequent fire will drive a local population to extinction. This is the case for many plant species: time to reproductive maturity is the minimum time span before a local population can cope with a second fire.
The structure of vegetation is also affected by fire. Frequent fire, typically less than ten years between burns, will simplify the vegetation structure. This happens in two ways. Firstly, logs, branches and other shelter sites are removed from the ground level. These provide shelter for many species of both plants and animals. Some animals which use this shelter are important pollinators of flowering plants. If there is no pollination, plant species eventually die out. Secondly, extinction of herbs and shrubs removes the lower layers of vegetation, which are vital shelter for smaller birds, sugar gliders and other animals which control many insects which attack the trees. This is also a particular consideration when Threatened species are involved.
Rural Fires Act 1997
New changes in the legislation (the Rural Fires Act 1997) now recognise the need for some new ways of thinking when preparing Bushfire Risk Management Plans. One of the key achievements of the Act is that it recognises that we need to respect the needs of the natural environment (ecological sustainability and threatened species conservation).
The Objectives of the Rural Fires Act 1997 are:
Particular environmental aspects of the Act are as follows:
As well, local government has the role of local service delivery manager, having significant fire prevention responsibilities at district level [section 37(2) and variously at Part 4].
The challenge in this is to find a balance: protection of persons and property versus protection of the natural environment. The resolution mechanism is community shaped Bush Fire Risk Management Plans (local collective knowledge and input in the form of bush fire management committees).
So, what is the way to do this?
1. The local bush fire management committee is responsible for preparing a risk management plan;
2. The proponent for operations on land is responsible to prepare a Review of Environmental Factors (REF), which includes the EP&A Act Part 5A "Seven Part Test". Where the land is managed by NSW NPWS (OEH) or State Forests, those organisations are required to provide the REF. Where a local Council issues a notice to a private landowner for hazard reduction works, the REF is the responsibility of Council, who may delegate the task to the Fire Control Officer, or Council's Environmental Officer, or an outside agency.
3. The proponent is to bring the REF to the local bush fire management committee to endorse and confirm the REF.
4. If the REF shows no significant impact, then the operation can be approved. If a significant impact is likely, the plan is to be amended.
In preparing a plan in the greater Sydney area for example, suitable consideration could thus be given to the following habitat needs:
1. Dry ridgetop depressions are important for Red Crowned Toadlets as breeding sites, where they have nests of eggs in leaf litter, and they shelter under logs and bush rock. Avoid any burn within 5 metres of any watercourse, no matter how ephemeral, especially on ridge tops.
2. Mature live trees with hollows, and dead trees with hollows (stags), are significant roosts for many kinds of animals such as micro bats, parrots, yellow-bellied gliders, squirrel gliders and owls. Avoid burning within 5 metres of the trunk of such a tree.
3. Fallen logs and branches with hollows also provide habitat, and erosion control after a burn removes leaf litter protecting the soil. Avoid burning within one metre of these logs.
4. Koalas and Powerful Owls may be affected by a burn below the tree in which they roost. Neither are easy to find, so care needs to be taken that burns are of low flame intensity where these animals are known to range.
5. Many plant species are slow to mature to the age where they produce seed. Eight years is generally accepted as the minimum time viable between burns in any area. More frequent burns will kill out species slow to mature, and cause local extinctions. On the other hand, some plant species and communities need a hot burn once every 20 years or so to maximise seed utilisation.
6. Maintaining the natural vegetation structure in an area. Recent claims have been made in popular literature that the natural state of vegetation in Australia is grassland and open woodland with little in the form of shrub layer. Such claims have been rejected by scientists (JS Benson at the Royal Botanic Gardens, PA Redpath at DLWC, in the Journal Cunninghamia 1997). Each vegetation type will be able to cope with a different fire regime to maintain that structure over the long term.
These considerations require accurate control of burns, both in flame intensity and height, and also fire path. For example, downhill burns will usually be appropriate, but be met by a burn moving uphill from watercourses.
As well, the concept of burn zones around residential areas may need to be reconsidered, especially in light of the needs of threatened species such as Red-crowned Toadlet and Glossy Black-cockatoo.
In summary, fauna depends on vegetation. If the fire regime for an area changes, the vegetation will change, and thus the fauna able to live there will change.
J.S. Benson & P.A. Redpath (1997) Cunninghamia 5(2):285-329 The nature of pre-European native vegetation in south-eastern Australia: a critique of Ryan, D.G., Ryan, J.R. and Starr B.J. (1995) The Australian landscape- Observations of Explorers and Early Settlers
NSW Rural Fire Service internet home page www.bushfire.nsw.gov.au
This is a short introductory course for anyone wishing to learn a range of skills required to assist a professional bushfire consultant.
The two-day course consists of one day in the field and one day in our computer laboratory. Maximum course size is four people, run any time that you are available.
Applicants do not need to be a fire fighter to do this course or to be employable in this field. Desirable background is familiarity with native vegetation, e.g. bachelor degree or TAFE course.
Course cost $1,100 including GST. Apply by email to Abel Ecology.
1. How to read Planning for Bush Fire Protection 2006.
2. How to read AS 3959-2009.
3. Vegetation assessment using Keith 2004 Ocean Shores to Desert Dunes: the native vegetation of New South Wales and the ACT, the journal Cunninghamia, vegetation maps and AS3959-2009.
4. Fuel load measurement and assessment, vegetation structure and vegetation typing
5. Slope measurement and analysis.
6. Fire history analysis
7. Application of Bushfire Environmental Assessment Code 2006
8. Using bushfire attack radiant heat calculators (RFS and Abel Ecology calculators are both based on the algorithm in AS3959-2009) to calculate BAL ratings.
9. Using PBP 2006 to calculate BAL ratings
Abel Ecology Pty Ltd 2014. trading as Abel Earthcare, Abel EarthScape and Abel Archaeology
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