Yet the current message from bushfire authorities' FireReady campaign - that on Code Red days homes cannot be saved - is as if these facts had never been revealed. And its push for evacuation via dire warnings of the likely fatal consequences of staying - is as if post-Black Saturday research had never been consulted.
These findings shows that the vast majority of Black Saturday deaths of people who stayed with their houses were not caused by the fact of staying. They were overwhelmingly caused by staying without having sufficiently prepared in advance - house, surrounds and reactions. They indicate clearly that on that day, awareness, knowledge and careful preparation could have saved them.
The Review of fatalities in the February 7, 2009, bushfires was presented to the Royal Commission in April, 2010, by Professor John Handmer, with Saffron O’Neil and Damien Killalea of the Bushfire CRC (Centre for Risk and Community). They found that: More than half (58%) of those who died in the fire zone had made no preparations at all, very few appeared to have had a comprehensive fire plan, and there was widespread misunderstanding and incorrect beliefs about fire behaviour.
Only 5% were engaged in suitable defence and of these, few had plans that had been clearly thought-through, let alone practiced. Only 14% had made any preparations for staying and defending; the defence actions of a further 25% was deemed ‘questionable’, and less than 1/3 occurred while undertaking some kind of defence.
Of the 69% of fatalities who had been sheltering, 34% sheltered in the house generally, 27% in the bathroom or other small room with limited means of escape, 8% in a spa, bunker or outhouse. Less than 1% had made safe preparations for evacuation. 16% died outside the house fleeing or preparing to flee.
Fatalities occurred at only 1% of the 6,000 homes in the fire-affected areas, these being 1.25% of the 14,000 who lived in the affected areas. No data was obtained on how many successfully defended their homes.