BUSHFIRE bunker standards must be urgently developed in the wake of the killer February fires, Victorian building commissioner Anthony Arnel says.
Mr Arnel yesterday told the Bushfires Royal Commission that the standards needed to cover the construction and installation of bunkers in danger areas. Consideration should also be given to making them mandatory in the worst areas, he said.
But he issued a number of cautions, urging people not to rush out and install bunkers without doing appropriate research and getting professional advice.
The Victorian Building Commission had developed a community information sheet about bushfire bunkers for those who were interested, he said.
The information sheet was published last week and gives a range of tips on bunkers including that they may not be a safe option in all cases and people considering installing a bunker should get professional advice from a structural engineer or a fire safety engineer.
Mr Arnel said he had been "quite concerned" that people might rush to install bunkers without considering the technical issues.
"And there are some real issues that need to be taken account of," he said. "I do believe we need to progress rapidly in the matter of bushfire bunkers to the point where we can classify them according to the building code of Australia. I would also advocate that we develop an applicable standard once you have a classification.
"Just buying something over the internet or relying on something in a publication may not be sufficient."
Royal commissioner Bernard Teague acknowledged the strong community interest in bunkers since the fires, including in submissions to the commission. "A lot of people are seeing bunkers as plan B," Justice Teague said.
Mr Arnel also told the commission that 87 per cent of the 2131 houses destroyed in the February fires did not need to meet bushfire building standards when they were built, because they were built before 1994. Only 177 homes were required to meet building standards, he said.
"The big challenge … is what to do with existing houses. The regulations have been changed to deal with new housing and now alterations and additions but, of course, there is a major issue in relation to existing housing," he said.
Counsel assisting the commission, Melinda Richards, said that in the first days after the release of the royal commission's interim report, the commission would examine a range of issues concerning houses and buildings, such as how houses burn during bushfires, what factors make buildings more fireproof, what are fire-prone areas and how the building of houses in fire-prone areas is regulated.
"These issues are of particular importance to those who are facing up to the challenge of rebuilding homes and other buildings that were destroyed in the February fires," she said.
"They're also of importance to those living in bushfire-prone areas that did not burn this year, and who are facing the next fire season."
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