Firies amazed by fireproof house at Mount George

Fireproof house: the Wallaby Joe RFS crew didn't have do a lot to save the house, beyond a bit of mopping up. Photo supplied
Fireproof house: the Wallaby Joe RFS crew didn't have do a lot to save the house, beyond a bit of mopping up. Photo supplied

Wingham's Wallaby Joe Rural Fire Service captain Bob Pope appreciates a house built to withstand bushfires.

On Friday, November 23 Bob and his crew were protecting properties on Nowendoc Road at Mount George as an intense bushfire swept through.

One of the houses the crew saved was owned by Brian English, but it reportedly didn't need much saving - it has been dubbed 'the fireproof house' by both Bob and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Brian lives in Newcastle but spends a lot of time on his Mount George property.

"I knew that Friday night that the fire had gone through my place," Brian said.

"I went up with a friend who's got bees on my place on Saturday morning. I was a bit apprehensive.

"When we got there we were absolutely amazed. The property is absolutely burnt through with hardly a blade of grass standing, but the shed and the house performed absolutely to design," Brian said.

"And then I met Bob Pope, who came on site, and he told me about his experience the day before, fighting it, and he said 'whoever designed this house is ('effing') brilliant. It is fireproof'."

Poor little bastards, they were suffering with the smoke and everything so I thought, 'oh we're going to stop the fire burning the poor old bees'. They were trapped in their boxes.

Wallaby Joe RFS captain, Bob Pope

Bob explained that by the time the crew got there, the flames were up to 10 feet high.

"We got up to the house and the fire actually went past that quick we were only mopping up bits and pieces around the house. And I thought, 'geez. this is well designed'. We didn't have to do a lot," Bob said.

After saving the shed, the next job was to save the bees.

"He had seven or eight bee hives. Poor little bastards, they were suffering with the smoke and everything so I thought, 'oh we're going to stop the fire burning the poor old bees'. They were trapped in their boxes," Bob said.

Fireproof design

Brian's house was designed by Newcastle based architect Matt Hull and built in 2008 by local builder Mal Roimans.

Considerations of the impacts of bushfire were on the architect's mind when designing the building. There is no exposed wood anywhere in the building, the house is hunkered down on the ground, and although the house is facing downhill and the owners wanted to take advantage of the view, a verandah or deck was foresaken for safety reasons.

"Instead of building a deck on the front of the house on the steepest part of the site, we split the building in half and put the verandah between the two living zones so that the house itself was the verandah," Matt Hull explained.

"With those sorts of design decisions in mind to minimise cost, minimise the impact on the site, hunker down onto the site itself, the building tends to nestle into the site and present less of a vulnerable underside or tall facade that would be vulnerable to flame attack."

Mal Roiman also made changes to the building that lessened the fire risk, by having concrete water tanks, piping that went under the ground to and from the tanks, metal screening, and changing the window design so the glass was heavier to make it more fireproof.

The main brief in the design of the house, however, was that it be self sufficient and passive solar.

What impressed Bob Pope was the corrugated iron cladding, the pebble surrounds, and a besser block retaining wall about 600-700mm off the house.

"Perfect. They did a perfect job," Bob said.

Fireproof shed

Fireproof shed