Published on January 17, 2020.
We keep hearing it - this is the 'new norm' and those of us in the sustainability space have been warning about the 'new norm' for a long time and when it comes to fire and the threats you don't need to look far to see just how out of touch things are.
Take this subdivision near my sons old school in Success WA. Typical of many in WA and across Australia and it at first doesn't look that special (pretty boring photo actually) but here is the story behind it and why it could spell fire disaster.
OK. So you see normal looking housing and across the road bush. That bush is a wetland, filled with glorious paperbarks, Ti-tree and swamp soil. A beautiful reserve and nature playground but sadly too, a regular little fire time bomb.
The real clincher question is what are these two seemingly disparate land uses doing right next to one another? The answer; a heady mix of poor fire planning and good old developer greed.
You see this wetland would have had to have been protected when the development plans were drawn up (say 15 years ago) and the Environmental protection recommendations would have recommended at least a 50m setback beyond the wetland boundary to buffer and protect the wetland from urban development impacts BUT, here is the key, the developer would have pushed to squeeze out as much buffer area around the wetland as possible to maximise Lot yield so whereas you would have had a decent buffer you now have nothing but a small road and the ensuing fire time bomb.
We may have got away with this before but now with the impacts of climate change ramping up this scenario poses a real and unacceptable risk. Trouble is the response will be (if people wake up to this threat) tear down the bush, get rid of the 'fuel' and the environment loses again. Double whammy.
I see two solutions. One. For those in this threatening space now. Become prepared and realise the threats around you, and with LGA requirements in sync, develop BAL (Bushfire Attack Level) rated gardens and retrofits for these homes. The LGA can do alot to educate and assist in this space. That way should a fire come home owners are better prepared and resourced to survive. Two. Moving forward we rethink our planning and view all fire through the prism of fire safe design. This will mean pushing back against the developers, leaving adequate buffers of low fuel load bushland and creating the whole subdivision design to better reflect the need to protect against fire and facilitate fast efficient evacuation when it is needed. No more ugly fire time bombs and less risk to lives homes and our beautiful bushland.