Message to Australians in bushfire-prone areas: “Leave and live”

Lorne-Jamieson Track Bushfire
A community impacted by the Lorne-Jamieson Track Bushfire. Country Fire Authority photo.

One of the many fires that have plagued Victoria, Australia in recent weeks, the Lorne-Jamieson Track Bushfire, destroyed 116 homes. With the state being in the midst of their bushfire season fire officials are encouraging residents to leave early if there is a report of a fire, rather than waiting too late — a mistake that has killed civilians who became trapped on roads and overrun by flames.

Below is an excerpt from an article in The Age written by Craig Lapsley, Victoria’s Emergency Management Commissioner.

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“…The only guaranteed way of surviving a bushfire is to not be there. That is the underpinning logic behind leaving early.

Fire is neither logical nor forgiving. Few people are adequately prepared, physically or emotionally, or have sufficient resources to remain and defend their properties. And so the message again this summer is to leave early. The message is captured in the slogan “Leave and live”.

On Christmas day, even after a recommendation to evacuate had been made, there were those in Lorne who chose to “wait and see”, the circumstance that has historically led to most bushfire deaths as people leave late and are caught on the roads, in the open or trapped in homes that cannot be defended.

fire crew Otways bushfire
Anthony Hester and his fire crew at the Otways bushfire in Victoria, Australia. Photo by Hamish Blair.

Larger, more complex questions face our community in the months and years ahead. The issue of land-use planning is one of these. More people are seeking to live deeper in the bush and enabling them to do so safely presents significant challenges.  A more structured approach to private shelters in high bushfire risk developments is one option.

More fundamentally, urban development both around Melbourne and regional centres, is being pushed into forested and even grassland areas that are inherently fire prone. New communities must be planned in a manner that does not inadvertently expose them to risk, be it from bushfire or other natural hazards. There is work being done within governments around this but a significant dialogue remains to be had with the broader community.

How existing communities are strengthened both physically and in terms of social resilience remains one of our biggest challenges. The vast majority of the existing building stock in high risk areas across the state is simply not designed to withstand the passage of a bushfire. This will not change within the foreseeable future. Community based planning that factors this inherent weakness into survival strategies has to play a part in strengthening communities against disaster…”

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills.

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3 thoughts on “Message to Australians in bushfire-prone areas: “Leave and live””

  1. “Leave and Live” sounds good, but do you really think you get get the entire population of a State to leave three or four times a year when there is extreme fire danger, let alone the ten to fifteen times when there is high fire danger? Secondly, where do they go to? Looking at example fire danger maps for Australia (i.e. http://www.abc.net.au/news/image/4455404-3×2-940×627.jpg), you would have to have people leave the entire State in some cases. This is not realistic, but it sounds good. I realize pithy slogans like “leave and live”, “when thunder roars, move indoors” and “turn around – don’t drown” are meant to be memorable, but are they effective and are they realistic?

    1. The fact that no lifes have been lost, in an area where many lifes were lost 30 years ago, when the same area burned, is testomony to the fact that the slogans and the warnings have been effective and proven to be realistic.

      What you fail to take into account, that you are not talking about millions of people, not even hundreds of thousands, and in most cases not even tens of thousands. Every citizen other than those in the large urban centres has their fire plan ready…. all year round. That includes where the evacuation centres are. All year round government sponsored reminders are on radio and television .

      The present fires along the Great Ocean Road have possibly covered an area where maybe 10.000 people live, maybe a few more with holiday crowds, but I doubt it. Most of it is National Park.

      Evacuation places are available all year round – they do not have to be found at the last moment.

      Never ever has it happened that a whole State needs to be evacuated. Neither is it multiple times a year. It is only when the fires are close by to a certain area. But none the less, they are ready all year round.

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