Victorian Bushfire Commission Resumes Hearings

The panel has recommended building code changes and is charged with delivering a final report by July 31 on wildfires that killed 173 people during late January and February 2009. A National Day of Mourning will be observed on Sunday.

The three-member 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission resumes its hearings today in Melbourne, Australia, as the members move closer to a July 31 deadline to deliver their final report on wildfires in Victoria that killed 173 people during late January and February 2009. A National Day of Mourning will be observed on Sunday, Feb. 7, to honor the victims, with flags flown at half staff and a moment of silence nationwide.

The panel is examining construction materials and fire-resistant features, such as bushfire bunkers, that are used in fire-prone areas. The structure and regulation of the electricity industry is another topic being explored.

On Nov. 24, 2009, the commission delivered to the governor of Victoria, Professor David de Kretser, an interim report containing seven building recommendations. The report then went to the State Parliament

"The commission has an important role as a catalyst for change," its chairman, Bernard Teague, said when the report was released. "And we welcome the prompt action by the Victorian Government and the Australian Building Codes Board on these important matters."

The recommendations are:

  • The Australian Building Codes Board should complete a standard for bushfire bunkers by April 30, 2010, that addresses fire resistance, structural strength, resistance to high winds, maintenance of tenable conditions, minimal functional size, maximum occupancy period, visual communication with the outside, siting, access and egress, and signage.
  • The board should amend the Building Code of Australia so bunkers are regulated by the code, making this change effective when the 2010 edition of the code is published.
  • The board should reference the national standard for bushfire bunkers in the building code as soon as possible, ideally in the 2010 edition.
  • The national government should encourage all jurisdictions to adopt the standard for bushfire bunkers as soon as practicable after it is cited in the building code.
  • The Victorian Government should prescribe the national standard for bushfire bunkers as a minimum standard for Victoria by amending its Building Regulations no later than May 31, 2010.
  • By March 31, 2010, Standards Australia should publish amendments to AS 3959-2009, a standard governing wood-frame construction in fire-prone areas, to include unmanaged grassland in the vegetation types and classifications and should report to the commission on progress of amendments to AS3959-2009 to increase ember protection measures at lower Bushfire Attack Levels, in particular in relation to subfloor requirements and materials prescribed for doors, windows and wall barriers.
  • Standards Australia should publish a fully revised Handbook to replace HB-36, Building in Bushfire Prone Areas, for use as a companion to AS 3959-2009, before Jan. 1, 2010.

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