Bushfire season starts early

Australia’s bushfire season has started early.

The Bureau of Meteorology has declared El Niño and positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) events, both of which have ramifications for Australia’s weather patterns.

El Niño refers to the extensive warming of the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. It occurs every three to eight years and is associated with drier conditions in eastern Australia.

A positive IOD means less rainfall over southern Australia and the Top End.

Those features combined do not forebode well for the summer bushfire season.

Ferm Engineering CEO Steve Burton says the nation’s housing shortage means more homes will be built in outlying suburbs in bushfire-prone areas, which means homeowners and developers must consider construction methods that improve bushfire safety.

“It can cost 30% more to build to bushfire standards, but even ad hoc sprinkler-based fire protection systems have saved homes across the world in bushfires. A specialist designer is required; it’s not a job for hardware specials.”

Steve says empirical evidence has shown that where homeowners have installed sprinklers on roofs, walls and around windows, the structures can survive when others nearby are destroyed. Ember suppression is crucial in the design approach.

“There’s no guarantees with bushfires – they’re unpredictable – but any wet-down system will provide better protection than nothing. Sometimes they work better than code-compliant house construction. CSIRO testing on the standards and construction methods has illustrated weaknesses and identified new challenges.”

Steve says the suite of Australian bushfire sprinkler standards is due for renewal so it’s an ideal time to collate evidence about what type of systems can make homes and other buildings safer in bushfires.