Victoria's bushfire threat

According to the Victorian State Bushfire Plan 2014, Victoria is one of the most fire-prone areas in the world.

The last decade has seen a dramatic increase in the number, size and severity of bushfires. Major fire events such as the 2003 Alpine Fire, 2006 Grampians Fire, the 2006/07 Great Divide fire and the devastating 2009 Black Saturday fires are evidence of increasing fire risk.

The CFA video Lessons from the past: Three major Victorian bushfires describes the circumstances of the 1939, 1983 and 2009 fires and fire behaviour.

Bushfires can be ignited many ways. Some are natural and can’t be prevented (eg: lightning strikes), others are caused by humans. A combination of factors lead to the high risk of bushfires in Victoria, including:

  • large areas of highly flammable dry eucalypt forest and grassland
  • a climate pattern of mild, moist winters followed by hot dry summers
  • long droughts
  • agricultural practices that include the use of fire
  • larger numbers of people living in bushfire-prone areas, such as in the rural-urban fringe.

The Black Saturday bushfires of 7 February 2009 resulted in the loss of 173 lives, saw over 2,000 homes destroyed and 430,000 hectares burnt. These tragic events have left a lasting legacy on the lives of many Victorians and have spurred action on the way our planning and building systems support community resilience to bushfire today and into the future.

The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission was established to investigate the causes and responses to the bushfires and how we might be able to reduce the risks of such a disaster happening again.

The Commission’s recommendations prioritise protecting human life. Governments, fire agencies, communities and individuals have shared responsibility for reducing the chance of a tragedy like Black Saturday ever happening again. The Victorian Government accepted all of the Royal Commission’s recommendations.

Land use planning plays an important role in community resilience to bushfire:

  • The Royal Commission into the 1939 bushfires recommended that sawmills be directed away from extreme forested environments and into settlements, a recommendation that was implemented.
  • The 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires initiated research which informed the introduction of Victoria's first bushfire specific planning tool, the Wildfire Management Overlay.
  • In 2002 the Council of Australian Governments concluded that land use planning which takes into account natural hazard risks is the single most important mitigation measure in preventing future disaster losses in areas of new development.

Nearly one third of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission’s (VRBC) recommendations related to the planning and building system. These recommendations have been implemented through reforms to the Victoria Planning Provisions, planning schemes across the State and the building regulations. The reforms are referred to as the Integrated Planning and Building Framework for Bushfire.

The key elements of the Integrated Planning and Building Framework are illustrated in this diagram:

You can also read our fact sheet for an overview of the bushfire planning and building provisions:

The key elements are:

1. A three-tier approach to mapping the bushfire hazard in Victoria and for triggering planning and building system requirements.

The approach identifies the areas to be included into the Bushfire Management Overlay in planning schemes and the Bushfire Prone Area in the Building Regulations.

2. Bushfire planning provisions

Planning provisions are included in Victorian planning schemes and include:

3. Building regulations

The Victorian Building Regulations:

  • require that development of new residential buildings, schools, child care centres, hospitals, aged care facilities and associated buildings in declared Bushfire Prone Areas is assessed at the building permit stage to determine the level of construction required to respond to the local bushfire hazard, with such buildings to be constructed with ember protection at a minimum
  • provide that, where a matter is addressed as part of the planning application under the Bushfire Management Overlay, the assessment need not be repeated at the building permit stage. This is sometimes referred to as the single site assessment.

View more information on the Building in bushfire prone areas page.

4. Vegetation exemptions for bushfire protection

Vegetation management rules have been established which include planning permit exemptions for bushfire shelters and for managing vegetation around existing homes and fence lines.

View more information on the Vegetation management for bushfire protection page.