ACT Strategic Bushfire Management Plan

The ESA Commissioner is responsible under section 72 of the Emergencies Act 2004 for the preparation of the ACT Strategic Bushfire Management Plan (SBMP). The SBMP is the overarching strategic document that directs all levels of bushfire planning for the ACT. Since the catastrophic bushfires of January 2003, the ACT has been proactive in implementing plans to protect people, property and the environment from bushfires, and to deliver increased community engagement and education around bushfire preparedness.

The first SBMP (Version 1) was issued in January 2005. Version 4 of the SBMP (SBMPv4) is the current version and was tabled in the ACT Legislative Assembly as a disallowable instrument on 12 September 2019. It will remain in effect until September 2024.

The SBMPv4 contains actions to mitigate the risk of bushfires in the ACT over the next five years. It draws on continuing research into fire management, bushfire behaviour, the effects of climate change and seasonal weather, the important role of the community, lessons learned nationally and internationally, and feedback from the community. It is based on the themes of agency and community preparation and response for bushfires, bushfire hazard assessment and risk analysis, bushfire prevention, and adaptive management to apply best practice to bushfire management and prevention practices in the ACT in a changing environment. Under each of those themes is a set of objectives and actions to deliver a strategic framework to protect the ACT community from bushfires and reduce resulting harm to the physical, social, cultural and economic environment of the Territory.

A whole of government steering committee has been established to monitor and review the actions to meet the objectives of the SBMPv4.  The SBMP Governance Committee is chaired by the Commissioner for the Environment.

A guideline has been developed to support the ongoing review of the Strategic Fire Management Zones and key planning tools for identifying the Bushfire Prone Area (BPA), Built Up Area and Bushfire Abatement Zone (BAZ) within the Territory.

ACT Bushfire hazard sub plan

A draft ACT Bushfire Hazard Plan has been developed as sub plan of the ACT Emergencies Plan. This plan draws together the Strategic Capability Framework, Concept of Operations for Bush and Grass Fire as well as the ACT Bush and Grass Fire Warnings and Public Information protocol.

ACT Bushfire Council (Bushfire Council

The Bushfire Council is an advisory body established by the Emergencies Act 2004. The Bushfire Council members are remunerated at the rates determined by the ACT Remuneration Tribunal.

The Bushfire Council plays an important role in providing advice to the Commissioner and the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. The Bushfire Council also makes recommendations that influence preparedness and response to bushfires in the Canberra region.

In 2020-21, the Bushfire Council held 11 monthly meetings. Minutes for the meetings are published at https://esa.act.gov.au/emergency-services/rural-fire-service/act-bushfirecouncil/minutes.

To ensure that the Bushfire Council is fully informed on fire management issues, members participate in field trips to inspect physical locations, works and other activities. These field trips inform Council members about current conditions and build their knowledge of fire management.

In November 2020, members of the ACT Bushfire Council participated in a field trip to review the topography in Namadgi National Park post the Orroral Valley Fire. They were accompanied by representatives from the ACT RFS and ACT Parks and Conservation Service.

Figure 43 - Image of Bushfire Council Field Trip at ‘Leggo Land’ Namadgi National Park

Annual Bushfire Planning Forum

The annual Bushfire Planning Forum consists of representatives from ACT Government directorates, Defence, the CSIRO, the National Capital Authority, EvoEnergy and ICON Water.

The Bushfire Planning Forum provides strategic level oversight, advice and collaborative information sharing, focusing on:

  • identifying and discussing capital works and other major activities that may affect bushfire planning or response, for example, actions restricting firefighting access or mitigation activities
  • identifying and discussing capital works and other major activities that may affect the bushfire operational plan (BOP), activities, or planning of another directorate or agency
  • identifying and discussing capital works and other major activities which may trigger
    or require significant environmental assessment
  • identifying and discussing capital works and other major activities that may trigger
    or require major changes to existing land use or land management
  • identifying and highlighting future planning requirements and potential constraints, and
  • reviewing and discussing risks, issues, and determining an appropriate course of action
    based on recommendations.

The 2020-21 Bushfire Planning Forum was held on 14 October 2020. It was convened via Webex
for the first time due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

ACT Elevated Fire Danger Plan

The ACT Elevated Fire Danger Plan outlines the standing and emergency arrangements for an all-agencies approach to elevated bushfire danger conditions in the ACT. The plan provides guidance to ACT Government directorates and agencies on activities that they can undertake to mitigate risk to life during days of elevated bushfire danger. The plan identifies facilities such as schools and health facilities to be closed or those facilities which require a modification to their activities under a period of elevated bushfire danger. Other standard arrangements are in place for total fire bans (TOBANs), including park and road closures by the EPSDD.

The ACT Elevated Fire Danger Plan Maps for ACT Government directorates and agencies are reviewed, updated, and approved by the Directors-General of ACT directorates and the ESA Commissioner each
year before the start of the bushfire season.

Regional Fire Management Plan

The Regional Fire Management Plan (RFMP) outlines how bushfire fuel management will be conducted on ACT Government-managed land. The RFMP consists of maps showing the proposed fuel treatments across the Territory’s estate over the next 10 years. The RFMP has a five-year review period. It balances fire fuel management with all the other values for managing the natural estate in the ACT.

The RFMP 2019-29 is the current plan. The draft plan in 2019 was based on the new concept of evaluating residual risk from fuel load modification to life and property, and the RFMP treatment areas were identified for implementation over the next ten years. The 2019 draft plan was subsequently revised to account for the devastating impact of Orroral Valley Fire in 2020 and the recently undertaken review of the Strategic Fire Management Zones. The revised RFMP and the review of the Strategic Fire Management Zones underwent public consultation in April and May 2021.

Strategic Fire Management Zones

The six Fire Management Zones (FMZs) form an integral part of the ACT Government’s approach to mitigating bushfire risk. FMZs are the link between the Strategic Bushfire Management Plan and the on-ground implementation of fuel management practices. The FMZs define measurable treatment standards for areas of land across the ACT. The location and alignment of the FMZs considers the risk of fires starting, spreading, and causing damage. The intensity of fuel management activities generally increases with proximity to assets, buildings and communities that are vulnerable to damage by fire.

The six FMZs conform to the ACT Fire Management Standards, which define the size of the zones and the treatment that is required for each zone. The Asset Protection Zones (which include the Inner and Outer Asset Protection Zone) are the most intensively treated. They are usually adjacent to the urban edge, and the Inner Asset Protection Zone width is between 10 and 60 metres wide from residential boundaries adjacent to Bushfire Prone Areas (PBAs).

The review of the FMZs has taken into account:

  • urban expansion
  • new suburbs requiring Asset Protection Zones
  • improvement in vegetation mapping and modelling of potential fire risk, and
  • improved asset identification within the rural areas and urban bushland.

Bushfire Operational Plans

Section 77 of the Emergencies Act 2004 requires an owner of land or manager of unleased Territory land or land occupied by the Territory to, as far as practicable, ensure the land is managed in accordance with the SBMP and comply with any bushfire management requirements. Section 78 of the Emergencies Act 2004 requires a manager of an area of unleased Territory land or land occupied by the Territory to prepare a bushfire operational plan (BOP) in accordance with the SBMP. The Act specifically outlines the requirement for landowners in the Bushfire Abatement Zone (BAZ) and managers of unleased territory land or land occupied by the territory to prepare bushfire operational plans. During 2020-21, the Bushfire Prone Area (BPA), the BAZ and Built Up Areas have been updated to reflect urban development in the ACT.

The ESA Commissioner approves all BOPs. BOPs must outline prevention and preparedness activities along with the performance indicators and reporting applicable for these activities. A BOP also details the specific timing, type and location of fuel-reduction, access and infrastructure activities that are proposed over the life of the BOP.

Auditing of Bushfire Operational Plans

Under the Emergencies Act 2004, the ESA Commissioner is responsible for approval of all BOPs. The ACTRFS audits the BOPs for ACT Government directorates and prescribed entities (power and water utilities). The audit process is an opportunity to monitor progress against objectives and priorities and identify opportunities for improvement of future BOPs. The audits verify that directorates and utilities are conducting the BOP activities as approved by the ESA Commissioner.

Each year, the audit results are summarised and provided to the Chief Officer ACTRFS and the ESA Commissioner. The performance results are also reported against the accountability indicator 'Desktop audit of ACT Government Directorate Bushfire Operational Plans activity progress reports' and are published in Section C.9 'Statements of Performance' in the Justice and Community Safety (JACS) Directorate Annual Report.

The ACTRFS undertakes these audits to contribute to ongoing and future mitigation planning measures such as the RFMP. Field audits of hazard reduction burning activities and access upgrades to the strategic access network are also conducted to ensure that these activities are being completed as scheduled, and
in accordance with the SBMP.

The SBMP specifically outlines the requirement for ACT Government directorates and other prescribed entities to develop a BOP for properties within BPAs on an annual basis. The annual report on BOP implementation for directorates and entities is detailed later in this report.

Figure 44 - Image of ACTRFS Staff undertaking an audit of BOP activities - ‘Pipeline Hazard Reduction Burn’ Namadgi National Park

ACT Farm FireWise Plans

Rural leaseholders within the BAZ are required under section 78 of the Emergencies Act 2004 to give the Commissioner a draft BOP for their lease. Participation in the ACT Farm FireWise (FFW) program, which is implemented by ACTRFS staff working closely with leaseholders, satisfies the legislative requirement to prepare a BOP. FFW Plans are updated and approved by the ESA Commissioner every five years. An FFW Plan also satisfies any bushfire planning required by a Land Management Agreement.

The ACTRFS manages the FFW program, which supports people in the rural community with their bushfire planning. The FFW program supports rural lessees by undertaking a risk assessment of their properties to determine the risk treatments or activities required to reduce the impacts of bushfire. There are currently 179 rural leases in the ACT (over the reporting period, one was withdrawn as part of the Kenny Offset Reserve), with 79 of these leases located in the BAZ.

During 2020-21, the FFW Program supported the commencement of 24 plans and the completion of 7 plans for properties in the BAZ. The FFW Program will continue to focus on supporting leaseholders within the BAZ to develop and update their plans in 2021–22.