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Bushfire Attack Level Overview

Every summer the threat and impact of Bush Fires on property and lives is reported on a daily basis and reinforced by the sound of heli-tankers and the pall of grey smoke that covers Perth. With the introduction of the Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) into the National Construction Code Building Code of Australia and the gazettal of State Planning Policy 3.7 Planning in Bushfire Prone Areas which came into effect on the 8th December 2015, there is now a requirement for properties identified within a Bushfire Prone Area to be assessed by an accredited Level 1 BAL Assessor or Bushfire Planning Practitioner.

Link to Map of Bush Fire Prone Areas 2016
http://www.dfes.wa.gov.au/regulationandcompliance/bushfireproneareas/Pages/default.aspx

Link to Bushfire Policy Framework
https://www.planning.wa.gov.au/8194.asp

The bushfire Policy Framework notes an exemption “If you are building a single house on a lot/s less than 1,100m2 you will not require a BAL assessment for planning, even if your house is going be built in a designated bushfire prone area. However, the building permit approval process may still require a BAL assessment or BAL Contour Map”. However it should be noted that the policy also states that “In addition, any habitable building (e.g. house, restaurant, office, etc) or specified building with a BAL rating of BAL-40 or BAL-FZ (Flame Zone) will require a development application seeking planning approval, even if they would normally be exempt under a separate section of the Local Planning Scheme Regulations”.

All local councils are undertaking steps to identify areas of risk within their municipality and are applying the appropriate BAL to these areas.

Under the NCC/BCA, within Volume Two under part 3.7.4 “Bushfire Areas” it states that Residential dwellings (Class 1), decks and sheds or outbuildings (Class 10a) if located within “designated bushfire prone area” are to be constructed in accordance with AS 3959 “Construction of Buildings in Bushfire-Prone Areas” and that they shall comply with Performance Requirements P2.3.4.

Scribe Building Compliance have undertaken the training through Fire Protection Association of Australia and have 2 accredited BAL assessors (Building Surveyor and Architect) under the Bushfire Planning and Design accreditation framework enabling us to undertake BAL assessments and provide construction information based on the nominated BAL ratings and minimum construction requirements nominated under AS3959 “Construction of Buildings in Bush Fire Prone Areas+.

Bushfire Attack Levels

There are 6 (six) BAL ratings with each requiring an increasing level of additional construction requirements as the level increases. Many people are starting to voluntarily apply the recommended construction standards to their new and existing properties based on advice provided or demanded by their local authority. The BAL ratings are as follows.

BAL – Low

  • Insufficient risk to warrant specific construction requirements
  • Standard housing construction methods

BAL – 12.5

  • Likelihood of Ember Attack
  • Minor increased requirements to construction – roof and openings

BAL – 19

  • Increasing levels of ember attack
  • Burning debris ignited by windborne embers
  • Increasing Heat Flux (12.5 to 19 kWm²)

BAL – 29

  • Increasing levels of ember attack
  • Burning debris ignited by windborne embers
  • Increasing Heat Flux (19 to 29 kWm²)

BAL – 40

  • Increasing levels of ember attack
  • Burning debris ignited by windborne embers
  • Increasing Heat Flux (29 to 40 kWm²)
  • Increased likelihood of exposure to flames

BAL – FZ

  • Direct exposure to flames from fire front
  • Increased Ember Attack
  • Increasing Heat Flux (40 kWm² +)

Each of the BAL’s nominated have minimum construction standards and requirements nominated under the NCC/BCA which will result particular construction methodologies, materials and measures are incorporated into the residence or ancillary structure on your property.

Scribe Building Compliance have accredited Level 1 BAL assessors whom have completed the Bushfire Planning and Design (BPAD) training through Fire Protection Association Australia are able to provide Bushfire Assessments for your property. Following a desk top survey of the property an on-site assessment will be undertaken and a comprehensive report prepared identifying the BAL and recommendations for your residence and surrounding property.

It must be noted that the new requirements for building in bushfire prone areas and the nominated minimum levels of construction requirements for houses and incidental structures associated with a residence does not mean that your house, or structure, will not be damaged or destroyed by bush fire. The very nature of fire means that its actions and activity can be unpredictable and other factors may affect the speed, action and intensity of a fire. Additionally, it must be acknowledged that even though products achieve BAL ratings or certification under AS3959 and associated testing standards (AS1580) will generally result in the product being damaged and its future integrity compromised.

The predominant means of damage to homes is through ember attack. Red hot embers that rain down or are blown around well after the main fire front has passed. Embers continue to be released from burning trees and vegetation as the bush continues to burn with “ember attack” continuing to occur for many hours following the passing of the main fire front. The BAL rating system is designed for Life Safety with the higher BAL ratings requiring structures to be protected and able to withstand direct radiant heat from a fire. The intention is to provide protection for occupants as the fire, flame front, passes.

Having undertaken the training course we would strongly recommend that everyone undertake and prepare an evacuation plan and have a clear understanding of how to leave your house to get to a place of safety, preferably by a number of different travel routes. The main objective is to ensure your safety.

Bushfire Assessment and Certificate

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Bushfire Compliance Report

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Bushfire Management Plan

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