“Fatal flaws” in Aussie Stay-or-Go bushfire strategy

Some of the 172 people that died in the Black Saturday bushfires in the Australian state of Victoria in 2009 made a conscious decision to stay at home, rather than evacuate. The Stay-or-Go option that has been used in Victoria for years did not turn out well during the extreme fire behavior on Black Saturday.

Here is an excerpt from an article in The Australian:

…According to geographers Saffron O’Neill of Melbourne University and John Handmer with RMIT University, the state’s fire preparedness strategies must be “transformed” or the next “complex” bushfire will cost far more than Black Saturday’s 172 lives and $3.5 billion in damage.

According to Professor Handmer and Dr O’Neill, most people who died in the fires left the decision to leave their homes too late or had fire plans containing “fatal flaws” — such as sheltering in a bathroom or other small room — where they were unaware of what was happening to the rest of the house and had no way to escape when the house caught fire.

“This is not a small step or a small change,” said Professor Handmer of the vulnerabilities he and Dr O’Neill detail today in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“We are the victims of our own success,” said Dr Handmer, noting that strategies for preparing for and coping with ordinary bushfires were totally inadequate in the face of hot, fast-moving wildfires.

The researchers recommend policymakers focus on four areas: diminishing the hazard — for instance, by altering electrical power distribution systems; reducing the exposure of infrastructure and buildings by prohibiting housing in high-hazard areas; reducing the vulnerability of people — by, for example, identifying disabled people; and boosting the adaptive capacity of institutions such as insurers and firefighters.

Thanks go out to Dick

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+