Differing views in this piece from the US about the recent fires in California, but the retired Fire Chief Bob Roper and the scientist Max Moritz speak from experience and the evidence of years of observing wildfires in the WUI.
“California law requires all new houses in the highest-risk wildfire zones to be built using fire resistant materials. But there are many older homes in these areas that aren’t required to meet the code unless they’re renovated.
“Modern building codes are great for new construction,” said Roper. “But the majority of the homes in the wildfire prone area are already built.””
An additional factor is that a house may be built to the latest standards and have features that initially protect it from being susceptible to bushfire attack, including embers. However, if a few years later, the vegetation near the house has become overgrown and is largely native plant material that is highly flammable, then the property could be at risk. Granted, not so vulnerable as an older home but it could still be affected.
Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage, and Western Australian Planning Commission have done considerable work in the area of new housing and have taken bushfire risk into account to make future subdivisions less at risk.However, the bulk of the problem is with existing housing as said by Roper and the Productivity Commission in its Inquiry into Natural Disaster Funding.
Thus for the majority of us living in the Rural Urban Interface areas we face another summer of uncertainty. Not nearly enough mitigation in the form of fuel reduction burns and other treatments has been done. Nor are those living in these areas been given sufficient advice about how to make themselves less at risk of bushfire attack.
The emphasis from the authorities is on getting out early, but if most leave then there are few are around to check for and put out embers. More focus on the Asset Protection Zone (aka the Building Protection Zone, BPZ) and the Hazard Separation Zone (HSZ) would also be valuable with the result of lower fuels near the house and increased life and property safety.
There is a real case for adopting the NFPA’s Wildfire and Firewise USA Programs or an Australian equivalent. If this came with enhanced fuel treatments of Shire and State lands plus large private landholdings we would not have the threat of major bushfires hanging over us each summer.
Summing up, we need to make a profound break in our mindset from relying on a response effort to that of mitigation (making the risk less) where we move to blocking embers entering our houses and managing the vegetation and other fuel on our lands both public and private.
We need to recognise we live in a fire-prone country; that fire can be our friend and not our enemy.