Today’s correspondent sent me a letter from the NSW RFS and addressed to their local council. They say:
In a recent subdivision which was required to comply with Planning for Bushfire Protection 2006, my understanding is a refuge was created by the following requirement included in the first page of the letter of the RFS to [the] Council of 3 March 2017 (copy attached, last sentence):
“At subdivision certificate stage, ongoing vegetation management will be required with lots 1 & 10 to reduce the impact of bushfire on the proposed public access road”
It would appear that a section of the public road is a fire refuge for firefighters and occupants of the subdivision.
I have emailed [the] Council asking them whether they intend to signpost the refuge but they have not replied. I would appreciate your opinion as to whether it is usual to have a public road as a fire refuge and whether [the] Council has any obligation to signpost the refuge.
I have not reproduced the letter nor named the council to maintain anonymity. The relevant paragraph is quoted above.
I cannot read the letter as my correspondent has read it. The concept of a ‘refuge’ does not appear in the Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW). The Act refers to a ‘neighbourhood safer place’ (see Part 3A). There are processes to establish a neighbourhood safer place but nothing in the material provided that suggests that this is what is occurring. The letter says “ongoing vegetation management will be required with lots 1 & 10 to reduce the impact of bushfire on the proposed public access road”. I don’t understand how a requirement to manage the vegetation to reduce the impact of bushfire on the road is anything other than a requirement to manage the vegetation to reduce the impact of bushfire on the road, so that the road can continue to be used as a road during a bushfire. Read any post fire reviews (and take for example the 2009 Black Saturday Royal Commission or the coroner’s inquest into the 2005 Eyre Peninsula (SA) fire you) to understand the risk to people from fire impacted roads.
There is nothing to suggest the road is intended as a refuge or a neighbourhood safer space. Reducing the impact of a bushfire on a road does not make the road a refuge, it makes it a means of access. That interpretation makes the questions is ‘usual to have a public road as a fire refuge[?]’ and ‘[Does the] Council ha[ve] any obligation to signpost the refuge[?]’ irrelevant. It’s a road, not a fire refuge.