Canberra Times: Vagaries of 2003 bushfires show need for new preventive measures

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Letters to the Editor: 19 January 2018

Your editorial (January 18, p.18) and articles on the 15th anniversary of the devastating 2003 bushfire raises some questions for today.

The Australian Standard AS3959 uses the McArthur Fire Danger Index created some decades ago, based on the progress of grass fires through radiant heat.

The 2003 bushfire behaved differently and triggered research which has shown that certain factors, including steep slopes, can trigger eruptive, turbulent fires.

Jason Sharples, of the UNSW in Canberra, has used the Ginninderry region in West Belconnen as a case study because it is surrounded by gorges whose slopes are of the type that can generate a convective plume that distributes airborne embers.

ACT Parks and Conservation manager  Brett McNamara has described the ember attack that rained down on his house in Tidbinbilla and destroyed it, despite his careful preparations.

AS3959 basically assigns building construction standards based on distance from vegetation, with 100 metres generally regarded as safe in the ACT.

Although further research is required to confirm essential standards, the Ginninderry case study indicated that embers could impact structures well into parts of the region not normally assessed as vulnerable.

Will building better fire-proofed houses provide safety to residents in these conditions?

Robyn Coghlan, president, Ginninderra Falls Association Incorporated

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