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FireWise Gardening

WHY IS LANDSCAPING FOR BUSHFIRE IMPORTANT?

Australia is one of the most bushfire-prone areas in the world. The combination of vegetation, climate and topography creates ideal conditions for bushfire. Population growth in high-risk locations means that these communities need to be well prepared for bushfires. Landscaping using appropriate design principles and plant selection can increase the likelihood of a house surviving a bushfire – even if the plan is to leave early.

If you live on a rural property and are primarily reliant on rainwater for gardening, waterwise and hydro-zoned gardens are the only option. A natural expansion of this concept, when selecting plants for your garden is to incorporate both low water needs and low fire flammability into the criteria. A useful resource for this is the Vic Government’s Plant Selection Key. You can use this tool to help you to determine to what extent the characteristics of a plant is fire-wise.

FIRE RESISTANT, FIRE RETARDANT OR FIREWISE?

These terms are often used when talking about flammability characteristics of a plant. They have very specific and quite different meanings and should not be confused. Fire resistant is a term that describes plant species that survive being burnt and will regrow after a bushfire. They are resistant to being killed by a bushfire, but not to being burnt. Therefore, they may be highly flammable and inappropriate for a garden in a high bushfire risk area. Fire retardant can also be misleading when referring to plants. It implies that a plant will not burn readily or may slow the passage of a fire. It cannot be emphasised enough that all plants will burn under the right conditions. Firewise, on the other hand, refers to the plant’s flammability ranking and effects management and where the plant should or should not be located.

Designing a Garden

The location, type and ongoing maintenance of vegetation within a property have a significant impact on the bushfire risk to any house. These factors can prevent the accumulation of debris and prevent the spread of fire towards a building. When designing a new or modifying an existing garden, carefully consider the placement of garden beds, trees and other vegetation to reduce the bushfire risk to the house.

When selected and located correctly, plants can filter and subdue embers, absorb radiant heat and break up fuel in the path of a bushfire. However, plants can also contribute to house loss by providing a continual fuel path to the house. This can result in leaf litter dropping on the ground, which can readily ignite embers, which may drop limbs or tree branches onto the house. This can also add to fuel loads on or near the house, such as creepers over pergolas, fences or verandahs if located too close, producing radiant heat and allowing embers into the house. A ladder can then result in fuel from the ground moving into tree canopies and increasing the intensity of the fire. Vegetation should also always be kept clear of access to and from the house and property.

Garden Design Principles

 

  • CREATE DEFENDABLE SPACE
  • REMOVE FLAMMABLE OBJECTS FROM AROUND THE HOUSE
  • BREAK UP FUEL CONTINUITY
  • CAREFULLY SELECT, LOCATE AND MAINTAIN TREES

 

For more information about how to best manage bushfire, please contact your local Country Fire Authority.

Additional Resources

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