From The Australian:
The Victorian Government was repeatedly warned of potentially fatal problems with its “stay or go” bushfire policy, including that people planning to go would not leave early enough and that those preparing to defend their homes were badly informed and ill-prepared.
Even the Country Fire Authority’s own research before Black Saturday showed a “significant proportion” of people in bushfire-prone areas had not adequately planned how to respond to a fire.
Problems with the stay or go policy, which encourages people to stay and defend their properties or leave early on days of increased threat, will be a prime focus of the Victorian bushfires royal commission.
Counsel assisting the commission, Jack Rush QC, has flagged that forced evacuations in areas considered indefensible might have to replace the policy after it apparently failed on February 7 when 173 people were killed.
Mr Rush told the opening of the inquiry on Monday that the stay or go policy was potentially confusing and open to misunderstanding.
An inquiry into bushfire preparedness by Victoria’s auditor-general warned that many people in fire-prone areas were poorly informed about risks, had dangerous misconceptions and were not ready to face a bushfire.
“A significant number of residents in wildfire-prone areas have not undertaken essential preparedness steps, have potentially dangerous knowledge gaps about fire behaviour and are planning inappropriate survival strategies,” the auditor-general concluded.
The inquiry found CFA advice to residents planning to go that they should leave before 10am on days of high fire danger was being widely ignored, with fewer than 5per cent saying they planned to leave that early. About 25 per cent of residents said they would wait until told to leave by emergency services, despite the fact that emergency services did not give such warnings during bushfires.
“If residents are relying on emergency services to tell them when to evacuate, this could be a fatal misunderstanding,” the auditor-general warned.
The report handed to the government in 2003 also found that in some areas many residents “held incorrect beliefs or knowledge that may lead them to make household survival plans that could place them in danger”.
Research commissioned by the CFA before the 2007-08 fire season found 56 per cent of residents wrongly believed a fire truck would be there to defend their homes and 51 per cent thought a firefighting aircraft would come to their aid.
Those “unrealistic” beliefs persisted, despite the CFA giving public warnings that it could not guarantee such help.