Reducing social disadvantage key to cutting bushfire risk, experts say

Reducing social disadvantage key to cutting bushfire risk, experts say

27 September 2016

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Australia —  Despite a chilly start to spring, there are some sobering statistics about the fire threat ahead from Professor Janet Stanley, of Melbourne University’s Sustainable Society.

“We are looking at 45,000 to 60,000 bushfires annually in Australia. I mean, this is a massive problem.”

Professor Stanley and fellow researchers have revealed their plan for better bushfire prevention, as climate change increases the size and severity of fires.

“Unless we get this right and get a system that’s appropriate to deal with it then we are going to have a lot of stress in the future and it’s frustrating because there are many thnigs that can be done.”

Estimating more than half the fires that start are deliberately lit, it highlights a growing number of Australians turning to arson.

The researchers say they’ve found a link between socio-economic disadvantage and arson.

It means they see the greatest fire threat now as on the urban fringes of our cities, where sprawling populations are increasingly encroaching on bushland.

And psychology expert Doctor Paul Read says the further out from the CBD, the higher the levels of disadvantage.

“And the closer you are to the bush, the more likely to have a situation where we have got the development for a proclivity for arson in a certain community and its proximity to the bush.”

Dr Read calls for more community reporting of potential arsonists.

“Some of them need to be allowed to receive treatment so that we can prevent bushfires from occurring long before the first match is struck.”

And after examing how the Victorian surf coast bushfire ripped through the town of Wye River last year, Melbourne University urban planning professor Alan March also calls for a re-think of where we build homes.

“I think it’s fair to say the structures in Wye River that were on very steep slopes are inherently risky and now really careful assessments are being made of those. They’re in flame zone, the highest rating. They will be incredibly expensive to build upon but I would say it goes far further than that, there are also places where fire fighting is going to be very risky for response crews.”

And it won’t be long before the fire season again is upon us – the official start is now as early as October.

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