12 simple ways you can reduce bushfire risk to older homes



There are no guarantees in bushfires, but you can improve the odds your house survives a blaze.
Photo by Edward Doody, courtesy of Arkin Tilt Architects, Author provided

Douglas Brown, Western Sydney University

Seventy-five years of Australian research into how houses respond to bushfire has identified 21 main weak points in houses and the area immediately surrounding them.

In recent decades this knowledge has been used to inform new building construction. But older houses are generally not built to the same standard, unless they have been significantly renovated.

Older homes make up the majority of buildings in bushfire prone-areas. There are some simple things that can improve the performance of an older house in a bushfire. Here are 12 suggestions: six simple projects that could be done over a weekend or two, and six low-cost things you could do in a single afternoon.




Read more:
Where to take refuge in your home during a bushfire


Six weekend projects:

1. Remove some garden beds next to the house

This is particularly true for garden beds near timber-framed windows and doors. For timber and fibro homes, garden beds adjacent to the house should be avoided entirely. At the very least prune dense bushes close to timber-framed windows back hard.

2. Sand and repaint weathered timber door and window frames

Over time, paint peels and cracks appear in the exposed and weathered timber. During a bushfire, embers can lodge in these cracks and ignite.

3. Enclose the subfloor with a metal mesh

Flammable items are often stored underneath the house. If this area is not enclosed these items will catch, often due to ember attack, and pose a threat to every room in the house. The exposed underside of timber floors can be protected with a lightweight, non-combustible layer.




Read more:
Curious Kids: how do bushfires start?


4. Repair or replace weathered timber decking

Just as embers can land in cracks in door and window frames, the same can also happen to weathered timber decking. Most decks are right next to the house and if they go up fire easily spreads to the home.

5. Have a 1-2 metre non-flammable area immediately around your house

Think of it as an additional protective defence area. You could use gravel, paving tiles, bricks, concrete, or ground rock such as scoria.

6. Get a professional roof inspection

Roofs gradually weaken and require maintenance. A professional roof repairer can check that tiles are in place, repair damaged ridge tiles, and ensure that skylights, air vents, evaporative coolers, and solar panels are in good order and are free from gaps where embers could enter.

The product specifications for timber door and window frames, metal mesh, and decking materials can be found in the relevant Australian Standard and steel construction standard. Actual requirements for houses vary according to the bushfire attack level associated with a specific block of land.

Open sub floor spaces are vulnerable, especially if used to store flammable material.
Douglas Brown, Author provided

Six easy afternoon projects

1. Replace natural coil doormats with synthetic

While they appear harmless, natural organic doormats can cause a fire to grow if they ignite. Due to their density they burn for a long time, and can spread flames to timber door frames. A synthetic mat will only flare up for a short time.

2. Remove organic mulch from garden beds next to the house

Burning embers can easily ignite dried-out organic mulch, setting fire to surrounding plants. If garden beds are near the house, particularly timber door and window frames, the danger is increased. Either remove mulch in garden beds next to the house or – if the mulch is suitable – dig it in deeply.

3. Store firewood in an enclosed metal container

It is best to store wood well away from the house, but no one wants to walk metres in cold winters to get that wood. So some firewood is often stored close to the house on a burnable deck, and often it’s left there over summer. Putting it into a large metal container can remove that fire risk.

4. Remove flammable material from the front porch, roof cavity, decking and underfloor area

When embers enter the roof cavity and underneath the house, flames can rapidly spread to every room. It is vital to keep these areas clear of flammable materials.

5. Replace timber benches on timber decks with synthetic ones

A timber bench on a timber deck next to a timber house is an unnecessary risk, similar to having a wood pile on a timber deck.

6. Turn pressure relief valves on outside gas bottles away from the house

Both the 2003 Canberra and the 2016 Wye River bushfires showed the danger of having gas bottle valves facing the house. In both fires, houses were destroyed when either the gas plume flamed or gas bottles exploded.

While these projects will improve the bushfire protection of your home, they can’t guarantee your home will survive a bushfire, especially during catastrophic bushfire conditions. It is also crucial to upgrade your home insurance so you can meet the higher costs of new building standards, in the event you have to rebuild. And in all cases, act on warnings given by your state or territory fire authority.


The advice given in this article is general and may not suit every circumstance.The Conversation

Douglas Brown, Casual Academic, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As flames encroach, those at risk may lose phone signal when they need it most


Stanley Shanapinda, La Trobe University

Yesterday, New South Wales and Queensland issued fire warnings classified as either “catastrophic”, “severe” or “extreme” – and these conditions will remain in the coming days.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s fire danger rating for Wednesday, November 13.
RFS QLD

Areas under threat include the greater Sydney area, northern New South Wales, the Northern Goldfields, and the Central Highlands. The declared state of emergency means human life is at great risk.

Those at risk should evacuate ahead of time, as mobile phone services may not be reliable when needed the most.

Service outages

People in dangerous bushfire situations often have the added burden of service outages. This can happen following fire damage to infrastructure (such as signal towers) that connects base stations that relay communications within the network. A break in this connection means no signal, or weak signal, for those on the ground.

Generally, radio waves used for mobile communication behave differently as they travel, based on various factors that affect signal strength. One factor is land geography, such as the height of hills. The signal may not be able to penetrate sand hills. Gum trees may also reflect, obstruct and absorb radio signals.




Read more:
Where to take refuge in your home during a bushfire


The scenarios described above can be made worse by fire environments, based on the frequencies used. Flames can produce “plasma”, which reacts with the surrounding magnetic field, and this degrades signal strength.

Rural fire service operations may use frequencies in the 400-450MHz range to communicate, but these signals are weakened during fire, in which case they may use frequencies in the 100-180MHz range. At this wavelength, signal strength doesn’t degrade as badly and can sustain better communication.

Being far away from a mobile phone tower, often in rural areas, also results in degraded communication. Rural areas don’t receive as much coverage because installing cell towers in these areas is not particularly profitable, and towers are built based on revenue estimates. There is little incentive to build networks with additional capacity in rural areas.

Get out while you can

In bushfire situations, it’s crucial to leave affected areas early to avoid becoming stuck in mobile black spots. These are regional and remote areas that have been identified as not having mobile phone coverage.

Some mobile black spots where fire danger warnings have been issued include Mount Seaview and Yarras, not far from the Oxley Highway in NSW. The status of the fires there was reported “out of control” on Tuesday morning.




Read more:
What has Australia learned from Black Saturday?


Optus is planning to roll out macrocells at these locations to expand coverage between the end of this year and the middle of next year. These are base stations that cover a wide area and are typically deployed in rural regions or along highways.

Until the macrocells are deployed, people living in mobile black spots, or who may be forced to pass through these areas due to fire, continue to be at risk. When passing through a fire-affected black spot, you are virtually unreachable.

Also, although the mobile black spot program will help to increase 4G coverage in rural areas, most rural areas, including many at high risk of bushfires, rely largely on 3G. When people need extra data capacity during emergencies, the network is incapable of handling the increased traffic load, as every device is trying to connect and download data at the minimum 3G capacity of 550Kbps.

Network overload

The network gets congested at times of catastrophe due to the high volume of mobile phone traffic experienced, which exceeds the available network capacity. The mobile network in Billy’s Creek in NSW, and the areas connected to it, experienced an outage yesterday.

Telstra’s services have also been affected. As of Monday, people in Billy’s Creek, Yarras and Nimbin (among other locations) were unable to send or receive messages, make calls or access the internet, and may not have been up to date with the latest fire information, unless through radio or television.

During bushfires last year, for every three calls attempted under Telstra’s network, one was eventually answered. Everyone trying to call at once is referred to as a “mass call event”. This creates “congestive collapse” in parts of the internet-based network, blocking new connections from being made.

During congestion, the performance of the network decreases because the internet packets that carry the calls or messages are dropped, or delayed, before they reach their destination. One solution is for operators to have signal boosters installed for the affected part of the network.

There’s an app for that, if you have good connection

In the same way, the “Fires Near Me Australia” web application is likely to suffer from internet packet deliveries being delayed.

The app may be overwhelmed if too many people try to access it at once, and may crash. In such scenarios, people should reboot their phones and keep trying to connect.

Some people have made complaints of not being able to download the app, and others of the app crashing, because their phone’s model was not new enough to support it.

If the fires spread to densely populated areas, available 4G capacities may be exhausted by the sheer volume of the traffic. And congestion is made worse by more incoming traffic from across the country, from concerned family and friends.

Preventative measures may no longer be an option for many. But in the future, people in fire-prone areas may benefit from buying a personal 4G or 3G mobile signal booster ahead of time.




Read more:
How to keep your mobile phone connected when the network is down


The Conversation


Stanley Shanapinda, Research Fellow, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.