Victoria has five Community Fire Refuges at Millgrove, East Warburton, Ferny Creek, Blackwood and Lavers Hill. Each of the community fire refuges are dual-purpose buildings, co-located with either schools or emergency services facilities, placed in communities with no other real last resort options in the event of fire.
A community fire refuge is a last resort shelter option. It is a designated building that can be opened during a bushfire to provide the public with short-term shelter from the immediate life-threatening effects of a bushfire. They are purpose-built or modified buildings that can provide protection from radiant heat and embers.
Community fire refuges are one of a number of contingency shelter options contained in Victoria's Bushfire Safety Policy Framework and should be considered in the context of all of the survival options available to a community in a high bushfire risk area. The Bushfire Safety Policy Framework acknowledges that there will be circumstances in which people may need to seek a last resort shelter option because their plans, such as leaving early or defending a well-prepared home, have failed.
The Community Fire Refuges Policy (2015) outlines the purpose, attributes and other arrangements related to establishment of refuges, designation, management, and other matters related to the operation of refuges. Refuges do not guarantee safety from a bushfire due to a number of limitations identified in the Community Fire Refuges Policy. Consequently, advice to the public should emphasise that seeking shelter in a refuge should not be considered as a primary plan of action.
Download a copy of the Community Fire Refuges Policy - Community Fire Refuges Policy 2015 (PDF 22 KB)
Available for download is: Construction & Project Management Guidelines for Community Fire Refuge (PDF 1.1 MB)
Available for download is: Community Fire Refuge Signage Manual (PDF, 2. MB)
The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) has developed a technical handbook for the design and construction of Community Fire Refuges. It is available at www.abcb.gov.au .
The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission recommended that Victoria introduce a comprehensive approach to shelter options that includes the following:
- Developing standards for community refuges as a matter of priority and replace the 2005 Fire Refuges in Victoria: Policy and Practice
- Designating community refuges—particularly in areas of very high risk—where other bushfire safety options are limited
- Working with municipal councils to ensure that appropriate criteria are used for bushfire shelters, so that people are not discouraged from using a bushfire shelter if there is no better option available
- Acknowledging personal shelters around their homes as a fallback option for individuals.
This is about offering a range of shelter options to community members that are not fully reliant on Government provision, including the use of private bunkers. Community fire refuges are only part of these options. There was no precedent in Australia or the world for building Community Fire Refuges, and every step has required evidence-based development and building without precedents.
CFRs are considered a priority in communities where other bushfire survival options are likely to fail. In isolated areas where the safest option (leaving early) is impractical, the provision of community refuges may become a high priority.
Other last resort shelter options include Neighbourhood Safer Places - Bushfire Places of Last Resort and private bushfire shelter (bunker).