The Bushfire CRC has determined areas at a greater risk of bushfire this season.

21 October 2013 — As bushfires burn through NSW’s Blue Mountains, The Fifth Estate has been talking to experts about the major risk areas.

The Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre in its 2013-14 seasonal outlook (pictured) documented areas in Australia that would be at greater risk of bushfire.

Independent research centre Risk Frontiers has also been working to create maps of areas at risk from bushfires nationwide, but at an individual property level.

Risk Frontiers risk scientist Dr Keping Chen told The Fifth Estate the centre’s FireAUS project concentrated on properties at risk in the “urban-bushland interface”.

The information collected is “important to property owners, the insurance industry, city councils and emergency services”, the group said.

Risk Frontiers has determined that when a fire occurs:

  • the maximum distance at which homes are destroyed is typically less than 700 metres from bushland
  • the probability of home destruction emerges as a simple linear and decreasing function of distance from the bushland but with a variable slope
  • the probability of home destruction within the first 50 metres of the forest edge is about 60 per cent

“The separation distance between address and nearby bushland is not the only factor that determines bushfire risk, but is the most important and easily quantifiable variable,” Risk Frontiers said.

Properties in Canberra determined as at-risk by Risk Frontiers’ FireAUS.

In a 2005 study published in Australasian Science, Dr Chen and coauthor Professor John McAneney  from Risk Frontiers looked at all the addresses in capital cities and surrounding areas, bar Darwin.

For the 8,161,680 addresses analysed, about 4.1 per cent of addresses were exposed to bushfire risk, being immediately adjacent or very close to extensive bushland.

What do bushfires mean for property prices?

Professor Chris Eves is an expert in property economics with QUT’s Science and Engineering Faculty, and has carried out a number of studies on the impact of natural disasters on residential property markets and buyer behaviour following such events.

Studies he has worked on involve the previous severe bushfires in Sydney from 1993 to 2002 and how they impacted on residential property markets.

“The price of non-affected houses in areas where the bushfires have been severe will be immediate, with a reduction in the number of houses listed for sale,” he said.

“Over the next six months houses in these areas will see a reduction in value even if they were not directly impacted by the bushfires. If there are any fatalities in the affected areas, the decline in values will be greater.

“Unlike natural disasters such as floods, where the clean-up and removal of evidence of the natural disaster is relatively quick, the clean-up from a severe bushfire takes considerably longer and the evidence is visible for years, reminding potential buyers of the risk.

“This not only reduces price, but also the time to sell and limits potential buyers. There will also be an exodus of a significant number of house renters who will seek alternative accommodation.”