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Guideline for building in bushfire prone areas: Wye River and Separation Creek

19 Oct 2016

The Christmas Day 2015 bushfire in Wye River and Separation Creek reminds us that the Australian landscape while breathtakingly beautiful, is also prone to bush fires that can have devastating consequences for the environment, communities and individuals.

The landscape scale bushfire risk of the Otways is extreme with the prospect of very intense fires given the potential fire weather, steep slopes and extensive eucalypt forests. The settlements of Wye River and Separation Creek are within this landscape risk context.

A key driver in the recovery after the fires is to increase the resilience of the communities and to provide a better bushfire protection outcome than existed prior to the fires.

Wye River and Separation Creek consist of houses of mixed contemporary styles and varying ages set on steep slopes amongst native vegetation. Houses are generally well screened from views by native forest, including canopy trees. A key priority identified by the community is to maintain the character of the area while providing for better bushfire protection outcomes that deliver a safer and more resilient community.

This precinct will continue to be characterised by dominant native bush that can form a consistent canopy, linking to the adjacent bushland. The size and location of a new house on a lot will need to be appropriate for the site and topography, providing defendable space and access through the area. The siting of new buildings should provide for the retention of existing trees, contemporary building standards and enhanced safety outcomes.

Adopting an integrated and holistic approach to the process of design for structures in steep and challenging settings allows best value solutions to be embraced that deliver multiple benefits to the use of the structure in the longer term. For example, use of building mass for both fire resistance and or energy efficiency outcomes and the use of shutters for fire resistance and for managing sun, heat loss and the like.

The guideline provides a set of voluntary bushfire protection measures that when comprehensively followed will increase the survival prospects of the houses and provide a contingency for people to safely move through the township if they are unable to shelter in their houses. Whilst these guidelines are likely to incur some costs, it is considered that the longer term benefits are likely to far outweigh these additional costs. Minimising costs is achieved by carefully considering these guidelines prior to designing and siting the house

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