Bushfire risk will always be there

9 January 2014

ANU researchers say Australians should avoid building homes in bushland, in order to reduce the risk of homes being destroyed by fires.

"House losses and unnecessary deaths will continue to increase in Australia if we keep building homes in bushfire-prone areas," Dr Philip Gibbons says.

With the bushfire season well underway, Dr Gibbons and Associate Professor Geoff Cary, from the Fenner School of Environment and Society, have released their views on the homes most likely at risk of being destroyed by fire this season.

Most house losses during bushfires in Australia have occurred within 100 metres of bushland - and virtually all losses within 700 metres of bushland-so their results are most relevant for people living in these areas.

A key result of their research is that hazard reduction burns aren't as effective as efforts such as clearing native trees and shrubs within 40 metres of homes.

During the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, hazard reduction burning near homes only moderately reduced the risk of fire destroying those homes and this effect only tended to last five years.

Hazard reduction burns only help limit the spread of fire during moderate weather conditions and have less of an effect during extreme or catastrophic conditions.

"Therefore, home owners should not see hazard reduction burning as the single solution that will protect their houses from bushfires," says Associate Professor Cary.

So what should homeowners in the bush do to ensure their homes are as protected and ready for fire as they can be?

Dr Gibbons says in many cases, some simple steps can be taken.

"Clearing close to houses, maintaining neat gardens, being further from bushland and regular hazard reduction burning close to houses can all play a part.

"But not all of these measures can be applied at every house near bushland, so common sense is needed."

The two experts say houses will continue to be destroyed by bushfires and so other strategies such as early evacuations to safer places must be part any bushfire plan for those living in fire-prone areas.