Australia — More WA homes have been damaged or destroyed by bushfire in the past three years than the previous nine years, according to new figures from the Fire and Emergency Services Authority.
The statistics come as Department of Environment and Conservation director general Keiran McNamara told a parliamentary committee that authorities were better positioned to tackle fires in the Perth Hills than this time last year.
Figures prepared for _The West Australian _by FESA, drawing on internal data as well as figures from DEC and local governments, show 242 homes have been destroyed since 2008-09, compared with 227 between 1999-2000 and 2007-08.
This increase has been linked to new bushfire guidelines which emerged after the 2009 Victorian fires.
The Victorian bushfires royal commission was critical of the “stay or go” message which encouraged homeowners to either remain at their properties to defend them if they had prepared for bushfires, or leave immediately.
Since 2009, bushfire response guidelines across Australia have been adjusted to place emphasis on the “primacy of life” over property, resulting in incident controllers more readily recommending evacuations.
A FESA spokeswoman linked the shift, along with drought in south-west WA, to a drastic increase in the number of homes destroyed or damaged in the past two years.
Kelmscott man Jos Mensink, who stayed to defend his home during the Perth Hills fires in February and helped to save six others, said people who had prepared for fire should be allowed to remain to defend their properties.
“If I had left I would have lost my house,” he said. “Some of the houses started to burn six, seven hours after the fire had gone through.
“We were able to put them out with a basic garden hose.”
Mr McNamara told the committee that DEC had to “pull up stumps” on prescribed burning earlier than usual last year because of unfavourable weather conditions, creating excess fuel loads.
He said since about mid-April about 16 prescribed burns had been done on the edge of Hills suburbs.