TV coverage of the February 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria showed houses that were saved from burning by the owners having illegally cleared the bush around them and been fined heavily, up to $100,000, for doing this. Neighbours who obeyed the law by not clearing lost their homes.
Note: Victoria has now changed the rules against clearing native vegetation around houses.
In a Northern Territory fire protection zone you can be fined for not clearing around your home and other assets. Bushfires Management Act Section 68:
(2) The owner or occupier of land within a fire protection zone commits an offence if:
(a) there is on the land:
(i) a house or other permanent structure; or
(ii) a stationary engine; or
(iii) flammable material; and
(b) there is not a prescribed firebreak around the thing mentioned in paragraph (a).
Maximum penalty: 20 penalty units and 2 penalty units for each day during which the offence continues.
Your fire protection plan should not rely on the local Volunteer Brigade burning your block for you. Shortage of numbers, together with a heavy work load attending prescribed burns on crown lands and chasing numerous wildfires mean that many Brigades just don't have the time to carry out private burns. Remember, we are volunteers, not private burning contractors and have our own properties to look after,too.
Your fire protection plan should also not depend on Volunteer Brigades burning crown lands in your area. There are forces hard at work trying to stop this burning and political parties needing preferences from minor parties to get elected to government tend to make deals not always in the public interest. Ask anyone from country Victoria.
Unfortunately, in the Darwin rural area it is not uncommon to see houses and outbuildings overgrown with long grasses, such as gamba and mission, and orchards overgrown with grasses taller than the trees.
Fire protection is the responsibility of “the owner, lessee, licensee, mortgagee in possession of or occupier of, or the person managing or controlling or apparently managing or controlling the use of” the land. Too many people sit on their backsides doing nothing and rely on their local volunteer bushfire brigade for protection.
Apart from the NTFRS station at Humpty Doo, there are no fire stations in rural areas manned by fire fighters waiting for a call out. Some Darwin rural area volunteer bushfire brigades have a lot of names in their register of members, but with few who actually fight fires. Of these few, many have jobs and family commitments.
What I am working up to is that not all fires start on weekends and a wildfire on a week day may have very few fire fighters available to attack it.
With these limited resources, homes that have not been made bushfire safe are in danger of burning unless the owner is home to defend it, and on a week day this is often unlikely.
Instead of telling you what you should do to make your home bushfire safe – follow the links at the end of this article for that information – I will tell you what I do on my block.
The garden consists mainly of exotic and rain forest trees, with some growing alongside the house and overhanging the roof. Grass and weeds won’t grow in their dense shade and nightly watering keeps the mulch moist. Regular raking prevents the build up of fallen branches, twigs and leaf litter. The watering also quickly breaks the leaf litter down into rich compost.
The trees create a lot of leaf litter on the roof. This is swept at regular intervals during the dry season. The roof sprinklers ensure that leaves are not an issue between sweepings.
The mini rain forest has attracted a few jungle fowl whose continual scratching helps keep the area clear as well. They have built their mound in the bush alongside one of the internal fire breaks and cleared the ground for a considerable distance around. This has provided both material and a bare earth fire break for the mound. Smart birds!
When going out during the dry season on days of severe or extreme fire danger, the bore is turned on to supply the roof and garden sprinklers. On returning home, sometimes many hours later, the place is safe from any bushfires. The trees and garden love the extra watering, too.
Thanks to termites, especially the voracious Mastotermes darwiniensis, power poles in the Top End are made of steel, minimising the likelihood of power outages during bushfires.
Check out some photos on the subpages by clicking the links at the bottom of this page or in the side bar.
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