Victoria to review ‘stay or go’ policy

Victoria to review ‘stay or go’ policy

19 May 2010

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Australia — The commissioners leading the investigation into Victoria’s devastating Black Saturday bushfires will scrutinise how victims died in a review of the state’s “stay or go” policy.

Two-thirds of people killed in the February 7, 2009 fires died in houses, despite the message to “prepare, stay and defend or leave early”.

The Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission on Wednesday held its final hearings into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 173 people on February 7 last year.

Commission chairman Bernard Teague said the commissioners would now closely examine all the deaths to re-evaluate the “stay or go” policy which applied on Black Saturday.

“The hearings have assisted us greatly in this respect,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

The stay-or-go policy suggested that people should decide whether to stay and defend their property well before a fire hit, or leave early.

The policy was based on a belief that people had a better chance of survival if they sheltered in a well-prepared home while a bushfire passed.

But the Black Saturday conflagration challenged that belief, after 113 of 173 people killed were found to have died in houses.

The investigation into the fire-related deaths included 86 hearings over 23 days and examined in detail how and where each victim died.

More than 450 family members, friends and colleagues attended the hearings.

“We realise it was extremely difficult and emotional for many of these people to listen to the details surrounding the deaths of their loved ones,” Mr Teague said.

“They have suffered a great loss and we thank them for their attendance.”

The commission will now hear submissions from legal representatives over several days until May 27 when hearings conclude.

The commission’s final report is due on July 31.

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