Bushfire stayers ‘macho’

Bushfire stayers ‘macho’

15 February 2010

published by  www.theage.com.au

Australia — VICTORIANS who choose to stay and defend their homes from bushfires are mainly men, driven by a primal urge to protect their property and machismo, according to CFA research.

The study into bushfire warnings – submitted to the Bushfires Royal Commission – also warned many people believe leaving a property early still means when they can see the flames of a bushfire.

But it also revealed that last year’s Black Saturday blazes, which claimed 173 lives, had changed people’s attitude towards leaving their properties early in the event of a fire.

The research, conducted in August, found people willing to stay and defend their properties had varied levels of readiness – from extremely prepared to ”alarmingly laissez faire”.

”The ‘stayers’ in the groups were almost always men … based on a combination of rational and emotional factors,” the study stated.

”Primal urge to protect what is theirs. The financial desire to save their property and possessions … machismo.”

The research, obtained by The Age under freedom of information, was based on meetings with five groups in urban fringe areas.

In response to Black Saturday, the state government introduced last September a new six-level bushfire warning system, with the worst fire days now described as code red (catastrophic).

The recommended action on code red days is ”to leave the night before, or early in the morning” with the rating warning that people might die.

Separate CFA research has shown almost one in three people living in high-risk areas planned to stay at home on code red days.

While research participants agreed on the need for a new warning system after Black Saturday, the study’s authors expressed concern about people’s definition of ”early”, with many thinking one to two hours before a fire hit was plenty of time to spare.

”For many, leave early still means when they see fire,” the Sweeney Research study stated.

Participants also said it was not practical to leave the night before – part of the recommendation for code red days.

Among the reasons given were jobs, children needing to go to school, the cost of accommodation and ”a level of emotional fatigue and complacency which comes from evacuating unnecessarily too often”.

It was also noted some of the most serious fire warnings were seen as confusing, with the potential to create panic.

”Extreme” and ”severe” – the second and third highest warning levels – were seen to be synonymous.

While ”catastrophic” was clearly differentiated, it was said to be associated with a ”doomsday scenario” by most research participants.

”Whilst it [catastrophic] certainly captures the attention it has the potential to create panic and fear, and to immobilise rather than galvanise,” the study showed. According to the research, fire readiness was not relative to the bushfire risk level of an area, with well prepared homes in low-risk areas and very unprepared residents in high-risk areas.

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