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.
“…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.
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…”