Fire authorities from around the world have been meeting in Australia to learn from the devastating bush fires in the southern state of Victoria earlier this year.
The affects of climate change have been a major point of discussion for international firefighting experts gathered in Sydney to look at ways to fight bushfires.
Better technology could help
Delegates from Asia, the United States and Europe attending two-day International Wildfire Management Conference see improved technology and research as weapons against wildfires around the world.
Southeast Australia is one of the most fire-prone regions anywhere and international experts have been keen to learn from the catastrophic events in the state of Victoria earlier this year.
A series of blazes, many sparked by lightning strikes or by suspected arsonists, killed more than 170 people.
Walls of flames powered through communities, propelled by strong winds. The fires were fed by dry conditions caused by very hot temperatures and a long drought, which many blame on climate change.
Stay or go?
The disaster has focused attention on Australia’s “stay-or-go” policy, where homeowners either fight the flames or leave their property.
Some fire chiefs in California say that residents should always be encouraged to evacuate, but Naomi Brown, from the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, says installing effective early warning systems is the key.
“Evacuation also requires enough time for people to evacuate,” Brown noted. “That’s really the biggest issue. When there is really a big sudden fire, the time to evacuate is extremely limited and extremely dangerous. So if we can get better at giving people triggers of when to leave early, which we will work very hard on doing, then people evacuating themselves is the safest thing to do as long as it’s early enough.”
Dry season is coming
For parts of southern Australia, the annual fire season could be as little as two months away.
Despite recent wet weather across much of the continent, climatologists warn that a looming El Nino pattern could bring drier conditions to Australia in the coming months.
In Asia, wildfires also are a particular danger in Indonesia and Malaysia, especially in areas where farmers burn wild growth to create palm oil plantations. Already fires have begun in parts of Indonesia, where there are warnings that an extended dry season this year could trigger severe blazes.