Experts want the Queensland Government to change fire safety and environment regulations before its
Experts want the Queensland Government to change fire safety and environment regulations before its "one-hat-fits-all” legislation kills someone. Liana Turner

These fire rules may kill Gympie residents

INFLEXIBLE red tape is putting Gympie lives and properties at risk.

Experts are begging the Queensland Government to change fire safety and environment regulations before its "one-hat-fits-all" legislation kills someone.

There are fears countless houses across our region could go up in smoke because home owners are hamstrung by vegetation clearance rules that do not reflect the region's diverse flora and topography.

Currently, all property owners must clear bush and trees to a maximum distance of 1.5 times the height of the tallest vegetation adjacent to their buildings or 20m, whichever is greater.

If they remove more than this, they can be penalised for damaging the environment.

Often this limited clearance zone means properties are at greater risk of destruction because there is not enough room for fire appliances to enter safely to fight the blaze.

There is also concern that people building on steep slopes cannot have a larger clear area as fire travels faster uphill.

There were 259 fires in the Gympie local government area in the 12 months to February 28 - 221 were environmental and 38 blazes involved buildings.

Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland has written to Deputy Premier Jackie Trad asking her to amend the Vegetation Management Act and the Sustainable Planning Act and urging her to meet with it and local firefighters about Gympie's specific legislative needs.

"In a lot of areas, we wouldn't consider the 20m clearance a defendable space," RFBAQ general manager Justin Choveaux told ARM Newsdesk.

"The State Government encourages resilient communities by asking households to be prepared for danger," Mr Choveaux said.

"If a family are not allowed to make their own home defendable, how can we build a resilient community?

"The only options are trying to defend an undefendable space and that puts yourself at risk or you clear around the property while the fire is heading your way and that is very dangerous.

"Being at imminent risk is the only time this extra vegetation clearance is legal."

Sandy Straits Rural Fire Brigade officer Graeme McWilliam said the rules meant the region's volunteer firefighters would struggle to protect some properties.

"Gympie area takes in quite a bit of different vegetation types," Mr McWilliam said.

"Over on the Rainbow Beach side you've got wallum which comes right out to the pine forests and on the western side you've got heavy wooded areas and grassland.

"You'll have some areas with slow-moving fires and low flame height, but in the areas where there is wallum-type heath, it can be very volatile because of the oils in the plant, so you get high flame heights.

"That's why you need to take into account vegetation type and topography."

Ms Trad's office said the government was considering the RFBAQ's request for change.

"The Palaszczuk Government recognises the importance of planning for bushfire protection and will shortly release updated bushfire mapping and guidance for councils and applicants," a spokeswoman for Ms Trad said.

- ARM NEWSDESK

 

Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland general manager Justin Choveaux says it's time to amend the Vegetation Management Act and the Sustainable Planning Act to make clearing rules more flexible so they meet the needs of our region. Photo: Francesca McMackin
Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland general manager Justin Choveaux says it's time to amend the Vegetation Management Act and the Sustainable Planning Act to make clearing rules more flexible so they meet the needs of our region. Photo: Francesca McMackin Francesca McMackin

AT A GLANCE

* 259 fires in the Gympie local government area from March 1, 2016 to February 28, 2017.

* 221 of these fires involved vegetation.

* 38 fires involved buildings and other infrastructure.

* Property owners must clear vegetation to a maximum distance of 1.5 times the height of the tallest vegetation adjacent to their buildings or 20m, whichever is greater.

* For every 10 degrees of slope, the forward rate of fire spread doubles. This means that a fire travelling 100m an hour on flat land will travel at 400m an hour on a 20-degree slope.

Source: QFES; Queensland Government



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