Many bushfire victims died in their bathrooms: report

Many bushfire victims died in their bathrooms: report

26 June 2009

published by

Australia —

A major research project undertaken since Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires has found almost half of those who died in Marysville were sheltering in bathrooms.

The research has been tabled at the Bushfires Royal Commission.

The Bushfires Cooperative Research Centre has been told 17 of the 34 people who died in Marysville on Black Saturday were found in bathrooms.

The evidence is preliminary and came from a firefighter who was one of more than 600 people interviewed in the largest research project ever undertaken in the aftermath of an Australian bushfire.

The firefighter was involved in searching burnt homes for survivors immediately after the fire.

His account supports anecdotal evidence that many of those who sheltered passively inside their homes on February the 7th did so in bathrooms.

This was despite the fact that no fire agency in Australia advocates bathrooms as safe places during fires and they rarely have exits to the outside.

“Lessons learnt”

Meanwhile, the Royal Commission has been told that the third most senior Country Fire Authority (CFA) officer working on Black Saturday never realised the Kilmore fire was incapable of being suppressed.

The commission has previously heard any fire that started on February the 7th was going to be virtually impossible to suppress.

But the CFA state duty officer in charge on the day, Greg Patterson says he never formed that view about the Kilmore fire that ended up burning through to Kinglake.

Mr Patterson told the hearing he did not need to understand the fire’s potential, just the resourcing requirements.

Under questioning, he agreed those resources were allocated without any appreciation of where fires would burn to.

Mr Patterson said lessons were being learnt after the event.

Counsel assisting the commission, Jack Rush QC suggested that was a bit late.

The Black Saturday bushfires killed 173 people and left thousands more homeless.

The commission is due to release its interim report in mid-August with the aim of implementing changes before the next fire season.

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