Frequently Asked Questions
In this section you will find a number of frequently asked questions, answers and links to other useful resources.
Frequently asked questions
Q: We live right on the bush so when we have a catastrophic danger rating day, can we use our garden hose to fill our gutters and water down what needs watering for safety? Or would we still be fined since we are in water restrictions?
A. Excellent question. You can only use the hose if there is an imminent threat to you house due to fire, so on a catastrophic fire danger day you cannot pre-emptively fill your gutters or wet down landscaping.
Q: Would more hazard reduction burns be the best way to reduce bushfire risk?
A. Apparently not, evidence has shown that increasing the frequency or area of controlled burns does not reduce the risk of bushfire. Also controlled burns or hazard reduction burns are themselves risky, controlled burns have in the past escaped containment lines and destroyed houses. This happened in Margaret River, WA in 2013 and Lancefield Vic in 2015. Smoke from controlled burns also have serious impacts on human health. A range of studies have also shown that reduced fuel loads do little for bushfire mitigation under extreme fire weather and in times of drought.
Going forward climate change is making bushfire frequency and extent in Australia worse, and the window of opporunity to do controlled burns is shrinking. This means communities living in bushfire prone areas need to adapt and find ways to make their homes and behaviour resilient to bushfires.
(Adapted from article published in The Conversation: A surprising answer to a hot question: controlled burns often fail to slow a bushfire)
Q: If I perform additions / extensions to my home located in a bushfire zone, do I have to replace my wooden paling fences ?
A. Generally no, although if your proposed renovation/extension requires a DA it is always possible that the consent authority may stipulate replacement of a timber fence as a condition of consent. That being said, it might be a sensible option to replace a timber fence with non-combustible material anyway – just make sure you’re familiar with the Exempt and Complying Development Codes and what you can and can’t do without Council consent.
Q: I live in a bushfire zone and I’m not sure what happens if my house gets damaged in a bushfire. How do I know what my options are and if my policy is right for me?
A. There are quite a few things you need to know about home insurance that can make a big difference to how you recover after your house is damaged or destroyed in a bushfire.
For example, you need to be aware of your level of cover, the conditions of your policy, how your home contents are replaced, timescales involved and additional benefits.
As usual in life, it’s the details that are very important, so it is well worth taking a few moments to read your policy and become familiar with it.
The Bushfire Insurance Guide by the Insurance Law Service will help you understand some key elements of your insurance policy and what to look out for.
Q: I have solar panels and I'm worried about them getting damaged in a bushfire or hail storm like the recent one in Berowra Heights. What I should if they get damaged and how do I prepare them if I know a storm or fire is coming?
A: According to the Clean Energy Council, if your solar system gets damaged it is best to not touch it until your installer has checked as it can be dangerous. If your installer cannot be contacted, you can find a Clean Energy Council accredited installer with this link.
If you know a storm or fire is coming your way you can shut down your solar system as a precaution. Your manual will have a shutdown procedure however, you can find an easy to follow guide here.
Q: I live uphill from a nearby park and have a large eucalypt 3 meters from my house. I’m concerned about the fire hazard this causes. Should this tree be removed?
A: The intensity of bushfires can be greatly lowered by reducing or removing the amount of bushfire fuel available. However, the reduction of fuel does not necessarily mean the removal of all vegetation. Trees, in particular, can provide you with some bushfire protection by slowing down and reducing strong winds, intense heat and flying embers. If you have one large tree it may be best to simply remove the branches overhanging your house.
It is important to note that most trees in Ku-ring-gai are protected and permission will need to be sought before pruning or tree removal can occur. Some exceptions do apply, and these can be viewed at http://www.kmc.nsw.gov.au/Plans_regulation/Environment/Trees
Q: I understand the reasons why it is difficult to do more frequent hazard reduction burns, so what can I do to protect my home?
A: Great question! There are many things you can do to protect your home from bushfires. One of the most useful strategies is to protect your home from ember attack. Research in Australia clearly shows ember attack is main cause homes destroyed during and immediately after a bushfire moves through an area (85% of all homes). Strong winds blow embers many hundreds of meters or even kilometers ahead of the fire front causing spot fires. Embers can be thick in the air in a large fire and can find their way into your roof cavity and house through the smallest of gaps like around windows, under doors or roof tiles for example.
Step 3 of the Ready Check tool has tips and information on how to protect your home from ember attack. If you have any other questions you can use the Ask a Local Expert button and submit your question.
Q: How would I know if my home insurance will cover the cost of rebuilding?
A: The rebuild cost depends on your Bushfire Attack Level (your BAL). If you are not sure what your BAL is you can check with your Local Council or the Rural Fire Service.
Your ‘sum insured’ determines how much the insurer will pay towards a rebuild. Building costs are constantly increasing. Also, the higher your BAL, the more your building costs will be. This is because your home may need to be rebuilt to a higher standard. Talk to your insurer about what the right level of cover is for you. You can also use their online calculators to find out.
Check your product disclosure statement to see And get covered early. There are limits on buying insurance once a fire has started. It is worth shopping around to get the right policy for you.
More information – Bushfire Insurance Guide
Q: Why does the government not provide fire hydrant in every property?
A: Fire hydrants are provided but they are not easy to see. In residential areas, there are fire hydrant points every 50-100 meters, they come in different sizes and designs. The most common cover or surface fitting is one with the letter ‘H’ on the top and may be coloured in yellow. They are not very noticeable and Fire & Rescue NSW (FRNSW) firefighters are urging residents and businesses to find the water hydrant on the footpath and street closest to their home or place of work and check its condition. Click the link below for tips for how to make a hydrant near your home easier to find. This will help in case of a fire emergency.
Q: How do I know what standard my house has to be built to if I am in a bush fire zone?
A: If your property is on fire prone land in NSW or in the buffer zone you will need to meet the requirements outlined in the Australian Standard AS 3959 Construction of buildings in bushfire-prone areas as well as Planning for bush fire protection Addendum Appendix 3. There are six construction levels in the Standard, based on the Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) of the property. They are BAL – Low (no specific construction requirements) BAL -12.5, BAL 19, BAL 29, BAL 40 and BAL – FZ (Flame Zone – the highest level of construction requirements). For more information see building construction and design and Planning for bush fire protection Addendum Appendix 3and on the Rural Fire Service website.
Q: What is the BAL rating based on?
A: The Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) is based on the type of vegetation, how close the proposed building is to the vegetation, the slope and the fire danger index. Each of these elements has been proven to affect the radiant heat a building is exposed to. The BAL rating to indicate level of risk was introduced in 2009 when the most recent version of Australian Standard AS3959 Construction of buildings in bushfire prone areas was issued.
Q: I have limited budget – what should I spend my money on?
A: Look for measures that have benefits for multiple hazards that you may be exposed to. For example, shutters on windows are effective for ember attack and reducing direct heat exposure in a bushfire; provide protection from debris during storms; and reduce heat entering the house during heatwaves. Other adaptations that have benefits against multiple hazards include rainwater tanks, landscaping (design and plant selection), backup power supply and fire retardant insulation. The cheapest measures are a multi-hazard plan (that everyone in the household knows), access to weather warnings and effective communication within your local neighbourhood.
Questions to be answered by our experts
Q: What is the best way to mount solar panels in bushfire prone areas? How do I stop embers burning them during an ember attack?
Yet to be answered. Come back soon.
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