Ban new homes in bushfire areas: Curtin expert

Ban new homes in bushfire areas: Curtin expert

8 January 2010

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Australia — In the wake of the devastating Toodyay bushfires, a Curtin University bushfire expert has urged authorities to ban the building of new houses in fire prone areas.

Grant Wardell-Johnson called on governments and local councils to cut urban sprawl in an age when climate change was increasing the likelihood of more devastating fires.

“The era of business as usual is over,” Associate Professor Wardell-Johnson said.

“Although prescribed burning can protect communities near flammable bush in moderate conditions, it will not solve the problem of extreme conditions when even very young, green wood becomes fuel.

“We have to establish new strategies such as changing planning rules to avoid building in fire risk areas, better social support systems in the bush, and strategic prescribed burning.”

Mr Wardell-Johnson has more than 25 years experience studying forests in south-western WA.

He said prescribed burning alone was no longer a viable solution to protect communities from bushfires.

“When homes are built in fire prone areas they need to be built to higher standards and their occupants must have the required training to deal with fires, making membership of local fire brigades compulsory,” he said.

“The rapid population increase around the edges of cities, bush and agricultural areas increases the risk of fires damaging property and endangering lives.”

Mr Wardell-Johnson said the number of volunteer firefighters must be increased, because climate change would “fundamentally change the way we live”.

“For many years now there has been a rising trend in the number of extreme fire events occurring in
Australia,” he said.

“This is a trend that is likely to intensify in the future as climate change makes much of southern Australia a hotter, drier place to live.

“Despite societies’ best efforts, increasing property and biodiversity losses are inevitable.”

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