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 Rockhampton residents

INFLEXIBLE red tape is putting Rockhampton 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 180 fires in the Rockhampton local government area in the 12 months to February 28 - 130 were environmental and 50 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 Rockhampton'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."

Cawarral Rural Fire Brigade's Gael Hardsman said the rules meant the region's volunteer firefighters would struggle to protect some properties.

"We have multiple and diverse landscapes that are going to impact on fires," Ms Hardsman said.

"We are not getting the clearings that we need around properties to be able to defend them appropriately.

"This is due to the restrictions that are placed on the landowners who want to put in the appropriate fire breaks.

"Building on higher areas also puts our firefighters at risk because fire will come up a hill much faster than anywhere else.

"If they don't have an adequate clearing we're putting homeowners and firefighters at risk."

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

* 180 fires in the Rockhampton local government area From March 1, 2016 to February 28, 2017.

* 150 of these fires involved vegetation.

* 30 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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