Challenging Authority for Fire Safety


Environmentally responsible action such as removing trees that increase the risk of home loss due to fire, should be promoted by law, not discouraged.  Current NSW legislation limits homeowners efforts to take responsible environmental action by removing trees that endanger their homes and lives and this law needs to be challenged by us.   For an insight into the issues at stake when it comes to authority and bushfire I encourage the reading of Bushfire and Bureaucrats by bushfire expert Joan Webster OAM.

In my conversations with Joan Webster OAM, I have learned that there is a large disparity between bushfire science and the RFS recommendations.

“Bushfire scientists recommend distancing eucalyptus and pines 50 m from buildings.

 Houses close to dense forests, or on small blocks close to neighbours’ cluttered gardens, need more protective distancing, and more fine fuel clearing, than those near sparse bush or on large allotments. 

On open, flat land between grass/crops, railway lines, roads, buildings – 10 m.

Between any bush and buildings, 30–100 m.

Between dense, high flammability bush and buildings, 200–300 m.

On ridges or very rough ground, 200–300 m.

On steep land add a metre to these distances for every degree of slope.”

Why these valuable tips by an expert, (and an authority in bushfire in Australia), are ignored by our Council needs to be questioned and challenged.

Two long due actions for homeowners in the Blue Mountains relating to fuel reduction are:

1.         Removal of flammable trees close to power lines;

2.         Removal of flammable trees away from houses;

These are some of the arguments we can assert.

 1. The impact of fire promoting trees happens on the ground 

The risk of fire spreading through the ground increases if there is leaf litter and very dry conditions.

  • With fire promoting trees around, flammable leaf litter accumulates on the ground very fast during just one hot and windy day.
  • Fire promoting trees hinder the growth of any fire deterrent species making it very hard to create a fire protective garden.
  • Fire promoting trees reduce the humidity levels on the ground.

2. The cost of rebuilding is far greater on the environment than the loss of a few       trees around our homes

We should not compromise on safety. Fire promoting trees should be removed as they increase the risk of home loss due to fire  According to the ABS the building and construction industries use 55% of timber products (mainly for residential buildings), 27% of plastic products and 12% of iron and steel. Also: Australians currently send approximately one tonne of construction and demolition waste per person per year to landfill. This can make up to 40% of landfill. Materials include metals, concrete and bricks, glass, fittings and fixtures from demolished or refurbished buildings, wood and wall panelling. See ABS page.

3. Carbon and the environment

One constant argument used by council officers denying permission to remove trees in the Blue Mountains is carbon sequestration.  However the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere if a home does burn should also be taken into account.

Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre  estimated that the 2003 and 2006-07 bushfires could have put 20-30million tonnes of carbon (70-105 million tonnes of carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere.

We can reduce bushfire carbon emissions by decreasing the risk of home loss due to fire.

Also we can replace the flammable trees with fire deterrent species that are equal carbon sequesters such as an Oak tree for example.

4. Fire expert’s recommendations regarding power lines

 Joan Webster OAM recommends that power lines “should be no closer to a tree than its full-grown height”  (Bushfire Safety tips page 38).


Radiata trees should be kept away from power lines, “burning pine needles can be blown 2.5 km”  (Bushfire Safety Tips.  Third edition page 41)

5. Fire expert’s recommendations regarding fire promoting trees

Joan Webster OAM advises the following.

Fire protective gardens have:

“No pine trees including ornamental pencil pines within 50 m of your house” 


“No native or other leaf-shedding trees within 50 m of your house  Leaf litter fall on extremely dry, windy days can endanger your house”.

Bushfire Safety Tips.  Third edition page 41.

6. Proactive fuel reduction

Pine needles and native tree leaves accumulate in gutters taking a long time to break down, blocking them and increasing the risk of the house catching fire;

There are many last minute preparations to be carried out when fire looms, and fuel reduction such as sweeping leaves and unblocking gutters should not be the main action taking up our time and energy.  Fuel reduction should be a proactive action which includes removal of fire promoting trees. 

7. Present Fire in the Wire as evidence of the danger of flammable trees close to homes and powerlines in Winmalee


We can not separate the total effect a tree can have on its immediate environment.  Fire promoting trees should be removed as part of the fuel reduction action to prevent home loss due to fire.

Removing fire promoting trees is responsible environmental action. Consider the statistics of the impact of building on the environment.  We will be partly responsible for the impact and deforestation if we have to rebuild due to fire destruction.

The recommendation by fire experts and documented evidence should be taken seriously.  And homeowners should have the right to be able to create fire protective gardens following the recommendations of fire experts.

For an accurate summary of the absurdity of our current policies read Governance in a time of crisis on page 46 of David Holmgren’s  Bushfire Resilient Communities and Landscapes. 

Finally, the contents of this article were summarised in a letter asking Council to reconsider their refusing permission to remove a turpentine tree that stands 12 metres from my house on the flame zone.  Council refused permission again.  The letter was also sent to several councillors but I never received a response.  Challenging authority for fire safety in some cases may be counterproductive.

The fire precautions taken by some homeowners in the area without permission, proves to me that when it comes to authority, secretive defiance is intelligent, open defiance dumb.

Paula Ajuria

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