Australia is no stranger to bushfires, and with the bushfire season now upon us, it naturally leads to many questions surrounding what can be done to protect properties.
Bushfire Risk in Australia
Bushfires are part of the natural cycle in Australia. They help to clear out the undergrowth and renew nutrients for vegetation, but they can also be extremely dangerous if not managed properly. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) reported that during 2019–20 there were 4,944 bushfires around Australia – a record number for the country. These fires burned over 18 million hectares of land and caused an estimated AU$ 1 billion in damages.
Even with advances in wildfire prevention and management, bushfire risk remains real and relevant for all Australians.
What Types of Properties Would Benefit From Bushfire Protection?
Almost any property in bushfire-prone areas, such as rural bushland or urban-rural fringe, could benefit from bushfire protection measures such as fireproof fencing, bushfire screens, ember shields and a bushfire survival plan. Necessary precautions should be taken to reduce the risk of a bushfire destroying or damaging homes, businesses, public buildings or infrastructure. Embers pose the greatest threat, so bushfire protection measures must be tailored to manage these tiny sparks of flames which are powerful enough to ignite structures and create new bushfires several kilometres away. Homeowners are encouraged to ensure that their property is adequately bushfire protected before the fire season arrives each year.
Bushfire Attack Level Ratings Explained
The Australian Standard for bushfire attack levels (AS 3959-2009) divides properties into six categories based on the severity of their exposure to bushfires. Each category provides a guide as to which fire protection measures may be required, including FZ Fire Shutters. These categories are as follows:
BAL Low (BL)
The least severe fire risk; there is no requirement for additional protective measures beyond basic building requirements prescribed by the Building Code of Australia. This generally indicates little risk from direct flame contact or ember attack. However, the chances of occupants having to evacuate their homes due to a bushfire are extremely low at this level.
This category applies in high-risk areas where there is some level of risk but not sufficient to require more than minor non-combustible construction materials and simple, passive fire protection measures such as the installation of FZ BAL screens. This level indicates some risk from an ember attack, but it will not lead to direct flame contact with your home or building if proper protective measures are taken. It also means that there is no requirement for occupants to evacuate their homes, unless in extreme circumstances.
BAL-19 is the most common category and requires more detailed design considerations. It is recommended that structures under this rating are built with high levels of non-combustible materials and install active fire protection systems such as sprinklers in addition to FZ BAL screens. This level indicates a moderate risk from both ember attack and potential direct flame contact with your home or building if proper protective measures are taken. In addition, occupants should have an evacuation plan in place in case conditions become too dangerous for them to remain in their homes or buildings.
This applies in high-risk areas where additional precautions are necessary, such as installing fire protection measures such as ignition-resistant eaves or walls with appropriate insulation and more stringent requirements for windows and doors, including FZ BAL screens. This level indicates an increased risk of both ember attack and flame contact from vegetation and radiant heat exposure during severe weather conditions such as windy days or very hot temperatures.
Applies in very high-risk areas requiring walls constructed with non-combustible materials combined with appropriate insulation, windows and doors protected with ignition-resistant shutters or equivalent, fireplace flues sealed off at roof level plus other active fire safety systems including sprinkler systems, smoke alarms and water supplies for hoses. This level indicates a very high risk from both ember attack and potential direct flame contact with your home or building if proper protective measures are taken, such as installing BAL40 bushfire screens on windows and doors, as this provides an additional layer of protection against flames and flying debris caused by bushfires. In addition, occupants should have a comprehensive evacuation plan in place due to the increased risk posed by this category of bushfire.
BAL Flame Zone (FZ)
BAL FZ areas are classified as ‘extreme high risk’. This level has a high likelihood of flames directly contacting the building and its occupants during a bushfire. This also means that occupants should be ready to evacuate if necessary due to the high fire danger risk.
Any structures built in this area have specific construction requirements. Building in a BAL-FZ area requires that the house be designed and constructed to withstand the potential impact of a bushfire, including exposure to radiant heat, ember attack, and direct flame contact.
Some of the key features that a house in a BAL-FZ area may need to have include:
- Non-combustible construction materials for the walls, roof, and eaves
- Double-glazed windows and doors that are bushfire-rated and can seal tightly to prevent ember infiltration
- BAL-FZ mesh screens and BAL-FZ Roller Shutters on windows and doors to prevent ember entry
- Roofs made of metal or tile, as opposed to flammable materials such as thatch or wood shingles
- Eaves that are enclosed or screened to prevent ember entry
- Decking and other external structures made of non-combustible materials
- Adequate clearance between the house and any vegetation or other combustible materials
It’s also important to note that in order to qualify for a building permit in BAL-FZ, it would be mandatory for a bushfire survival plan (BSP) . This is a planning document that identifies the potential bushfire risks to a property and outlines the measures that will be taken to minimize those risks and protect the safety of the occupants in the event of a bushfire.
It’s important to note that building in a bushfire-prone area can be challenging and may require the services of a professional who has experience designing and constructing homes that meet the specific requirements for bushfire protection.
So What Constitutes an ‘Extreme Risk’ Situation?
An ‘extreme risk’ situation is one where the potential for severe injury or death to occupants is high due to a combination of factors such as the terrain, vegetation, wind speed, temperature and proximity of other buildings. These conditions can increase the intensity of a bushfire and make it difficult for firefighters to access the area quickly enough to assist. As such, homes in extreme-risk areas should take additional steps to protect their occupants from possible harm from a bushfire attack.
Can Firefighters Help?
Firefighters can help reduce the intensity of a bushfire by creating firebreaks and conducting backburning operations, but they cannot eliminate the threat posed by a bushfire in an extreme-risk area.
Can Different Elements of a Home or Building Have Different BAL Ratings?
Yes—different elements of a home or building can have different Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) ratings depending on their relative location within the property and their elevation relative to other buildings or features nearby. Homeowners and builders need to understand these differing ratings to ensure that they provide adequate protection against potential bushfires in their area.
Depending on the location and elevation of the property, different areas may require different levels of protection. For example, an area at a higher elevation will typically require more protection than an area at a lower elevation due to increased exposure to radiant heat and embers flying through the air.
Why are Doors and Windows the Weakest Points of Your Home When it Comes to Fire Resistance?
Doors and windows often provide the path of least resistance for a fire to spread from one room or area of the house to another. The materials used in their construction make them particularly susceptible to heat, smoke, flames, and other byproducts of a fire. For example, many doors are made with flammable materials, such that flames can quickly consume. Additionally, air flows more easily through doorways than through walls; this allows smoke from one room to travel throughout the rest of the house with ease.
Windows are even more vulnerable than doors because they typically have much thinner frames that heat can easily damage. Also, windows may contain flammable curtains or blinds that can quickly catch fire. Furthermore, if windows break due to intense heat or flames (common during fires), additional oxygen will enter the building—this oxygen feeds the fire, increasing its intensity and causing it to spread faster throughout your home.
What Can You Install on Your Home/Property to Give it FZ Fire Protection?
When it comes to FZ fire resistance in your home, it’s crucial to invest in Bushfire Screens and FZ Roller Shutters that can help protect your home in the event of a fire. Bushfire Rated Security Screens can be installed on your windows and protect your home against both airborne embers and direct flames, and reduce heat transfer by up to 90%.
FZ Fire Roller Shutters can be installed on both windows and doors and provide the best protection against a bushfire. They are made from incombustible aluminum and stainless steel, and form a strong barrier against bushfire flames.
Benefits of FZ Roller Shutters & BAL 40 Security Screens
Both FZ Roller Shutters and Security Screens have dual benefits of bushfire protection and added security against intruders.
Fire-Rated Roller Shutters and Security Screens Can Help Contain Fires
Fire-rated roller shutters and screens are designed to prevent fires from spreading throughout the building—acting as a physical barrier between the outside environment and the inside of the property, helping slow the spread of flames and smoke.
Fire-Rated Roller Shutters and Security Screens Can Buy You Time
The most important thing about fire-rated screens is that they buy you time—time you can use to evacuate the premises or call for help. By working to contain a fire, FZ roller shutters and screens delay its progress long enough for you to make sure everyone is safe and evacuate the area if necessary.
Fire-Rated Roller Shutters and Security Screens Are Cost Effective
Investing in fire-rated roller shutters and security screens may seem like an expensive proposition initially, but considering all of their benefits—protection from fire, smoke inhalation, and heat transfer—they are incredibly cost-effective over time. Most importantly, they work to protect you and your property against catastrophic fire damage.