Bushfire Assessments FAQ

  1. What is the BMO?
  2. Is my property within the Bushfire Management Overlay (BMO)?
  3. What is a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL)?
  4. What is a Bushfire Management Overlay (BMO) Report?
  5. How does the revised BMO differ from the previous BMO?
  6. Is my dwelling in a ‘residential area’?
  7. What happens if I already have a BAL?
  8. What do different BAL ratings mean for my building costs?
  9. How can I determine if it is feasible to build on my block?
  10. Can I complete the BMO Report myself?
  11. What are the cost estimates of obtaining a BMO Report?
  12. How long does the process take when I engage Ecotide?
  13. What is an alternative solution under the BMO?
  14. How and where do I submit a BMO Report once it is completed?
  15. Who approves the BMO Report? Who’s involved and what happens to it?
  16. What happens if a bushfire report is challenged by Council or CFA?
  17. What are the additional requirements (water and access)?
  18. Can water tanks be used by the owner?
  19. Do I need a permit to clear my property for defendable space?
  20. What can I plant around my house?

What is the Bushfire Management Overlay?

Bushfire risk in Victoria is divided into three categories. The Bushfire Management Overlay represents the highest bushfire risk category.

The three categories of bushfire risk are:

1. Low bushfire threat area – there are no specific bushfire protection measures required.

2. Bushfire Prone Areas – medium bushfire threat.

Properties requires protection from predominantly ember attack. This is covered by a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) rating. The BAL Report is a relatively straightforward assessment that is under 5 pages of information.

3. Bushfire Management Overlay – very high bushfire threat.

Properties that are covered by the Bushfire Management Overlay and require protection from ember attack, radiant heat and direct flame contact. The Bushfire Management Overlay requires a BAL assessment AND addresses the management of vegetation, water and access in the form of a Bushfire Management Overlay Report. The BMO Report is a complex bushfire assessment that is generally over 20 pages in length with purpose detailed mapping to demonstrate defendable space.

The BMO came out of recommendations from the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission in 2009. The BMO was revised by the Minister for Planning on 31/7/14 to streamline the process and align it with the Australian Standard for bushfire risk assessment.

Bushfire Management Overlay mapping

Is my property within the Bushfire Management Overlay (BMO)?

To find out which bushfire risk category applies to your property, you can access a free property report at land.vic.gov.au. If you need further assistance, please see the relevant tutorial here.

What is a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL)?

The Bushfire Attack Level (or BAL) indicates the construction requirements for building within a medium threat Bushfire Prone Area. A BAL Report is triggered by the location of a property within the Bushfire Prone Area, and the requirements for construction are derived from the Australian Standard AS3959:2009. There are a range of bushfire attack levels that increase with the severity of the impact of bushfire.

BAL report - BAL ratingsThe BAL is there to protect against ember attack and radiant heat from an approaching bushfire. The rating is derived from the type and proximity of vegetation and the slopes around the building. The numerical figure in a BAL is the maximum radiant heat in kilowatts per metres squared, which is expected to impact on the development in the event of a bushfire.

A BAL of 12.5 is typical of a building in open grassland with little over-storey vegetation nearby. The other end of the range is Flame Zone (FZ) , where vegetation is quite close to the building.

Ecotide can determine a BAL for a Bushfire Prone Area, or as part of a BMO Report.

What is a Bushfire Management Overlay (BMO) Report?

If your property is within the highest bushfire threat category which is a BMO area, you will require a BMO Report. A BMO Report is a relatively complex, technical planning and bushfire science report. The report is a mandatory requirement to meet the Victorian Planning Provisions for all properties within the BMO.

It contains:

1. Bushfire Hazard Site Assessment

2. Bushfire Hazard Landscape Assessment (for properties not in residential zones)

3. Bushfire Management Statement, which provides:

    • A BAL rating based on the Australian Standard and defendable space distances
    • Calculations of defendable space and vegetation management
    • Static water supply and access requirements
    • Satellite mapping of bushfire hazards and protection measures on the property

Contact us now for a quote for the preparation of a BMO Report for your property.

How does the revised BMO differ from the previous BMO?

The BMO changes implemented by the Minister for Planning on the 31st of July 2014 generally simplify the BMO process and makes clearer the acceptable solutions to mitigate bushfire risk. The BMO is split into 3 pathways, which are:

  1. Dwellings in residential areas: This simplified pathway applies to properties in residential zones (for a full list of the applicable zones, see below). This pathway allows BAL Flame Zone, and the potential for bushfire bunkers to lower the required BAL.
  2. Dwellings and other works in non-residential areas: Pathway 2 is similar to the provisions of the previous BMO and requires a more complex assessment. Detailed alternative options are available, including the use of adjoining land as defendable space, undertaking an alternative assessment (Method 2) or building to Flame Zone.
  3. Subdivisions: Pathway 3 applies to subdivisions. The requirements for residential subdivisions are similar to Pathway 2, and generally follow the previous BMO provisions.

Defendable space in all pathways now only requires one zone of vegetation managed (the ‘inner zone’), the ‘outer zone’ no longer applies. The total required defendable space distances are thereby reduced.

Is my dwelling in a ‘residential area’?

The following planning zones are considered ‘residential areas’:

  • Neighbourhood Residential Zone (NRZ)
  • General Residential Zone (GRZ)
  • Residential Growth Zone (RGZ)
  • Urban Growth Zone (UGZ)
  • Low Density Residential Zone (LDRZ)
  • Township Zone (TZ)
  • Rural Living Zone (RLZ)

To find out if your property is in one of these residential zones, you can check the zoning on the land.vic.gov.au site (See 2. Is my property within the BMO?).

What happens if I already have a BAL?

If you have a BAL rating post the introduction of the new Australian Standard on 8 September 2011, it is a valid BAL rating and governs bushfire protection and building construction requirements concurrently. BAL ratings obtained prior to this will most likely need to be recalculated. If you are within the BMO, then the BAL calculated as part of the BMO Report will supersede your previous BAL.

What do different BAL ratings mean for my building costs?

Although the financial impacts of different BAL ratings require more research, indicative cost implications for a conventional house range from an additional $3,000 for BAL 12.5 to up to $50,000 for a BAL 40.

BAL costs

I’m thinking of buying a block or building on my block in the BMO, how can I determine if it is feasible to build on?

Ecotide are able to provide a feasibility report that analyses the technical details and enables you to make an informed decision about purchasing or building on a property. The report will assess the whole property and determine the potential building locations and construction requirements.

If you decide to build on the property (within the Bushfire Management Overlay), then a Bushfire Management Overlay Report will be required to address the regulations. The information in the feasibility report can be used within the BMO Report, allowing us to pass on an approximately 35% discount to our fees.  Contact us now for a feasibility report quote.

Can I complete the BMS myself?

CFA previously developed an applicant’s kit for property owners to develop their own reports for properties. This kit is no longer applicable under the BMO, as the BMO Report is a complex and legally binding document that is unlikely to be accepted if completed by the home-owner. We recommend (well we would, of course) using an experienced bushfire consultancy firm, such as Ecotide, to ensure that the BMO Report is completed accurately and meets the Victorian Planning provisions.

Ecotide delivers a report which is over 20 pages, covers all of the mandatory reporting requirements, and uses advanced mapping techniques to demonstrate defendable space compliance.

What are the cost estimates of obtaining a BMO Report?

Ecotide offers a high quality of service, for relatively mid-range costs. Whilst costs across the industry sector are quite variable, quality, experience and professionalism levels tend to correspond with pricing. As these reports can be quite complex, significant delays and difficulties can result from a report that is inaccurate or incomplete. Ecotide has the technical knowledge and ability to complete detailed and accurate bushfire assessments, as well as the capability to liaise with government departments to resolve disputes. Contact Ecotide for an obligation free quote.

How long does the process take when I engage Ecotide?

Ecotide will endeavour to complete the BMO Reports within 3 weeks from confirmation of client payment. We do provide a fast-tracking option for an additional cost for people that require reports to be submitted to planning authorities on short notice. Once the documents have been submitted to the referral authorities, timeframes can vary on a case by case basis. Expect the process to take some time, so act early and contact us now.

What is an alternative solution under the BMO?

An alternative solution is required under the BMO when a property has difficulty meeting the standard bushfire protection measures of the BMO. The revised BMO explicitly states a number of alternative solutions for these properties, which may include: the installation of a bushfire bunker; a ‘method 2’ advanced calculation; or the application of BAL Flame Zone.

Ecotide has experience in applying these alternative solutions to properties, and has negotiated with the relevant authorities in several instances to resolve bushfire planning issues. Contact us now to see if we can help with your proposed development.

Ecotide is aware of a number of bushfire construction and protection suppliers. These suppliers are involved in the areas of bushfire protection construction and bushfire sprinkler systems.

How and where do I submit a BMO Report once it is completed?

The completed BMO Report is submitted to your local council, who are the planning authority. The council may then send the report to CFA to make recommendations for approval, request for further information or additional provisions, and potentially reject the application.

As the planning authority has the final say, there may be other planning considerations that are completely independent of a bushfire assessment that may have an impact on your application. In relation to the BMO, the proposal is approved if it meet the requirements of the BMO and satisfies the referral authorities.

Who approves the BMO Report? Who’s involved and what happens to it?

The BMO Report is sent to referral authorities (such as CFA) for recommendations, approval or refusal. Ultimately, the planning department of your local council is the statutory body that grants the planning permit.

Be aware that the planning and referral authorities processes can vary significantly from and within localities (analysis can be complex) and that further liaison may be required to obtain final approval.

Ecotide have experience dealing with various CFA Regions, Councils and other agencies, and has a positive record in achieving solutions for our clients.

What happens if a bushfire report is challenged by Council or CFA?

As bushfire assessments can be quite complex, Council or CFA may request further information. In some instances, where a substandard report was completed by inexperienced providers, significant delays and increased costs may result.
Ecotide have significant experience in negotiating and mediating with referral authorities, as well as providing expert witness evidence in VCAT. We have had numerous past successes in achieving positive solutions for our clients, so contact us now to assist with your site.

What are the additional requirements (water and access)?

Water and access requirements vary based on the individual property. The size of your property (m²) and the distance to the nearest hydrant are the major factors. This will impact:

  • The size of the required water tank;
  • Whether CFA will require access to the water tank;
  • Whether CFA fittings are required to be attached to the water tank;

The following table, taken from the BMO provisions, shows the water tank requirements in relation to lot size and water supply:

BMO Water Supply

You cannot rely on the fire services to come and protect your home. We therefore often recommend the owner to set up their own independent pump and hoses to enable better protection of their assets.

The specific access requirements that apply to your property will depend on the length of the driveway from the main road. The below diagrams summarise the general requirements for access onto properties.

BMO access requirements

Can water tanks be used by the owner or are they strictly for fire-fighting purposes?

The provision of a dedicated water supply with appropriate access is required for most development within the BMO. This is necessary as reticulated water supplies can be compromised during fire events, as experienced in many major bushfires, including the Black Saturday bushfires. Therefore, under the BMO, these static water supplies must be accessible if required. However, water supply for fire fighting purposes can be in the same tank as other static water supply, providing they are separated by different outlets.

BMO water tanks

Do I need a permit to clear my property for defendable space?

If your BMO Report is approved, then you may not need a permit to remove or manage vegetation on your property. People within the following zones are exempt from requiring a permit to manage their defendable space:

  • Neighbourhood Residential Zone (NRZ)
  • General Residential Zone (GRZ)
  • Residential Growth Zone (RGZ)
  • Urban Growth Zone (UGZ)
  • Low Density Residential Zone (LDRZ)
  • Township Zone (TZ)
  • Rural Living Zone (RLZ)
  • Farming Zone (FZ)
  • Rural Activity Zone (RAZ)

We recommend that you confirm the permit exemption with the planning department at your local council prior to undertaking any vegetation works.

What can I plant around my house?

Under the BMO, the region directly around your house is referred to as the ‘inner zone’ – The requirements of the inner zone are as follows:

  • Within 10 metres of a building, flammable objects such as plants, mulches and fences must not be located close* to vulnerable parts of the building such as windows, decks and eaves.
  • Trees must not overhang the roofline of the building, touch walls or other elements of a building.
  • Grass must be no more than 5 centimetres in height. All leaves and vegetation debris are to be removed at regular intervals.
  • Shrubs must not be planted under trees and must be separated by at least 1.5 times their mature height.
  • Plants greater than 10 centimetres in height at maturity must not be placed directly in front of a window or other glass feature.
  • Tree canopy separation of 2 metres and the overall canopy cover of no more than 15 per cent at maturity.
  • Tree branches below 2 metres from ground level must be removed.

* Close is considered to be 1.5 to 2 times the mature height of the fuel.

For more specific information, see the CFA’s document ‘Landscaping for Bushfire’.

BMO what can I plant?