Australia — AUSTRALIA’S system of bushfire safety messages has repeatedly failed, experts warn, as the current bushfire season heats up.
Research shows the failings evident in Victoria’s catastrophic 2009 Black Saturday bushfires were repeated during the West Australian bushfires early last year.
The findings were presented on Thursday as part of a Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre briefing for the fire season.
Bushfire CRC project leader Jim McLennan says bushfire safety messages, overall, have failed.
Interviews with almost 500 survivors of the Black Saturday blazes showed people intellectually understood a risk was present but this didn’t necessarily translate into action.
“Somehow fire emergency agencies have to get the danger and need to prepare message not as much into householders’ minds but somehow into their bones and their guts,” Dr McLennan said.
“There was a disconnect between the extreme fire danger weather predicted and any sense of personal risk or danger.”
He said these worrying findings were repeated in 2011.
“After fires in WA early last year they found the same thing,” Dr McLennan said.
Of the 496 householders interviewed by the Bushfire CRC following Black Saturday almost half had stayed and attempted to defend their home.
One in five failed.
Dr McLennan said staying and defending a house is almost always a riskier option than leaving as soon as the threat becomes apparent and the safety messages weren’t working.
“The level of preparation is still a long-way short of what we wish householders would take and what I think is necessary to significantly reduce the likelihood of fatalities during an extreme fire event.” The failure was in the forest areas.Advertisement
Following a 10-year strategy, ACT fire managers have created a mosaic across the landscape of different fuel levels, burning at every opportunity.
But forests have been too wet to burn this spring and the past two summers.
A network of 500 fire trails and strategic burns along the north-west urban edge, heavy grazing and extra grass slashing will create a fortress for the territory which forecasters say faces a higher than average risk this summer.
After a fire-fuelled tornado in January 2003 killed four Canberrans and frightened thousands more, CSIRO fire expert Phil Cheney told the subsequent inquiry the fire’s penetration into urban areas under extreme conditions did not reflect a failure of fuel management on the urban interface.