Mega-fire threat to rural areas

 Mega-fire threat to rural areas

21 September 2007

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Australia — The threat of mega-fires destroying the economic structure of rural areas in south-eastern Australia — including Tasmania — is real, says a national bushfire expert.

Australian Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre acting chief Gary Morgan said the prospect of a disastrous national summer fire season had the potential to ruin country towns.

“In Australia’s south-east, there is a high mega-fire potential this summer,” Mr Morgan said.

“There was an economic analysis undertaken by RMIT after the 2003 mega-fires in country Victoria.

“The report that came out of that estimated a sustained 4 per cent decline in economic activity in the municipalities affected by the fires.

“That’s huge when you take into account these rural areas are facing the pressures of the drought and demographic changes — where people are leaving for the city.

“A big fire could close these towns down.”

Mr Morgan said a recent study in the US had shown that mega-fires made up just 1 per cent of all bushfires but represented 85 per cent of the total damage bill.

Yesterday he addressed the joint Australasian Fire Authorities Council and CRC conference being held in Hobart.

Mr Morgan said fires were a way of life in the Australian bush and a great deal of research and co-operation was required to diminish the physical and economic threat they posed.

“Urban suburbs are stretching further out towards the bush and more prescribed burn-offs are needed to protect communities,” he said.

“At the same time, there are always risks involved in completing such burn-offs — there is always the risk that the fire will get away.

“We need to have active debate in the area of fire policy in order to best evaluate how we can manage the threat.”

State fire chief John Gledhill said on Wednesday Tasmania faced a bad fire season because of a lack of early spring rain.

The bushfire conference concludes today.

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