The Melbourne suburbs at risk of bushfire

Black Saturday bushfire ravaging the countryside.

Sue Hewitt

Posted November 12, 2019

Suburbs less than 10 kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD have been identified as bushfire risks.

As devastating bushfires rage through NSW and Queensland and Victorians brace for another long, hot fire season, tens of thousands of people living in suburban and urban areas are unaware they could be at risk.  

The Metropolitan Fire Brigade has identified suburbs less than 10 kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD as bushfire danger zones.

Fire experts warn that urban residents living in fire-prone areas including Fairfield, Sandringham and Mount Waverley need to be as vigilant as regional Victorians in the lead-up to this fire season, and should prepare a proper fire plan.

The MFB says parkland, river reserves and wooded beachfronts pose a risk for residents in urban areas. It has identified 29 Melbourne suburbs that could be at risk. For example, Fairfield, just eight kilometres from the CBD, is at risk of a bushfire in Yarra Bend Park, while Beaumaris residents face four potential fire sources, including Ricketts Point coastline and Balcombe Park. 

Wheelers Hill residents had a reminder of urban fire dangers last month when a large grass and scrub fire in Jells Park needed firefighting aircraft to help extinguish the blaze.

Police and emergency services minister Lisa Neville has warned that Victoria faces a “long, hot and dry fire season”. She says, “Our firefighters can’t do this alone. Every single one of us has a responsibility to plan and prepare for fire.”

The state government has launched its ‘How well do you know fire’ campaign urging people to prepare for the fire season and to download the VicEmergency app to get emergency information and warnings.

Professor Alan March, a University of Melbourne disaster risk-reduction expert says residents should prepare their property and a fire plan before summer.

He says Melbourne’s urban sprawl has seen houses spring up next to farmland and protected habitat, with the risk of unpredictable, fast-running grassfires. In addition, some suburbs have substantial parks that pose a risk, while others can come under “ember attack” from fires many kilometres away.

Injured koala receiving treatment.

Parks and bushlands are at greater risk of bushfires, causing harm to people, property and wildlife.


“We’re slowly coming around to understanding the dangers of bushfires outside rural areas,” he says. Parks and gardens can create a “corridor” for fires to move into urban areas, he says, such as was seen in Bendigo on Black Saturday in 2009 when fire came within a few kilometres of the town centre.

Jamie Hansen, Country Fire Authority operations manager for district 8, which covers 28,000 kilometres including many urban areas where bushfire risks exist such as Churchill National Park north of Endeavour Hills, says too many people have become complacent over bushfire. He says they should check the VicEmergency website to understand fire warnings and how to prepare for fire

Not all parkland is a fire danger, though, says Justin Leonard, CSIRO’s bushfire expert. For example, manicured gardens are not a risk.

He says people can assess their individual property’s risk using the state government bushfire-prone area map which shows bushfire-prone areas (BPA) in brown and bushfire management overlays (BMO) with red dots. The BMO is “exceptionally high risk”. 

To check the map, go to the website, insert your address, click ‘map’ on the top toolbar, then click ‘layer list’ underneath the tool bar and in the left column tick bushfire. 

If your home is in a potential danger area, you should create a bushfire survival plan. It is also important to take preventative steps to protect your property, such as ensuring your home insurance is up to date, clearing leaves and debris out of your gutters and fixing damaged roof tiles to stop burning embers blowing underneath and setting roofing timber alight. 

Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning has revealed that it is planning for a “one-in-110 years” heatwave in coming years, saying the likelihood of a “very extreme” heatwave will double in the next 11 years. Black Saturday’s 2009 heatwave was a “one-in-25-years” event.  


Preparing a personal bushfire plan

The Country Fire Authority provides a 10-item checklist to prepare your personal bushfire plan.

Your plan should answer the following questions:


  • Which Fire Danger Rating is my trigger to leave?
  • Will I leave early that morning or the night before?
  • Where will I go?
  • What route will I take – and what is my alternative in the event that a fire is already in the area?
  • What will I take with me?
  • What do I need to organise for my pets or livestock?
  • Who do I need to keep informed of my movements?
  • Is there anyone outside my household who I need to help or check up on?
  • How will I stay informed about warnings and updates?
  • What will I do if there is a fire in the area and I cannot leave?