The bushfires that raged across Victoria in February 2009, claiming 173 lives, did not leave only destruction and sadness in their wake.
Green shoots of innovation have emerged, and flourished in the form of three new devices to combat the ravaging force of radiant heat.
“Many houses that catch fire in a bushfire burn from the inside out … this wasn’t fully understood until relatively recently,” says Sam Davis, project manager at the Victorian Centre for Advanced Materials Manufacturing (VCAMM).
“Radiant heat causes the windows to break and the wind then blows burning debris into the house.
“That’s where we came up with the idea of shields, like a curtain.”
The Advanced Bushfire Materials Consortium—headed by VCAMM and including industry partners Frankston Concrete and Diver Industries—has developed a prototype fire and heat-proof curtain to cover the outside of a house window during a bushfire.
The consortium has also reached the production phase on a similar shield for inside the cabin of a fire truck, for emergency use should a vehicle get trapped.
Testing is also underway on a walk-in concrete bunker, which is designed to fit five people and withstand the most extreme of bushfires.
“It’s been tested at 1000 degrees [Celsius] on the outside, for over an hour, and the temperature inside the bunker did not exceed 40 degrees,” Sam says.
“It came through with flying colours … in reality we know a bushfire usually passes in 10–15 minutes.”
The bunker, which is modular and scalable, should be commercially available by 2013.
The VCAMM’s Bushfire Shelter Project received a $400,000 collaborative science and innovation grant from the Victorian Government.
Photo: A prototype of the walk-in concrete bunker, under development by VCAMM, which is designed to provide a safe refuge amid the most extreme of bushfires.
Many houses that catch fire in a bushfire burn from the inside out.