Saturday, January 12, 2013

Unrealism and realism in bushfire policies

The editorial in the Herald-Sun on Thursday, January 10, headed ‘Fire lessons keep us safe’ is absolutely off target for praising the current official campaign of instilling ‘greater fear’ of bushfires into people as ‘a life preserving attitude’. And for pushing the line that it is always safest to evacuate early from a bushfire.

The ‘greater fear’, combined with the ‘everybody out’ policy, 
is a recipe for even worse disaster in loss of lives than on Black Saturday.

The policy that it is always safest to evacuate early is based on the demonstrably false assumption that advance knowledge is always possible of when a bushfire is likely to threaten. A bushfire can start between would-be evacuees and their proposed destination; a grassfire can start in the paddock next door and race towards their ‘escape route’  – as many of  your news stories have shown.

Those believing in this line would do well to note 
that when authorities order people to evacuate these orders are not, 
repeat not, 
being given early, before a fire threatens their area, 
but at the very time it has become a danger to their area.

Post- Black Saturday research by bushfire scientists has shown that people died with their houses that day not, again repeat not, because of the act of  staying or of defending, but because they did not know how to stay safely. Most had not bothered to find out. It also found that 80% of home defenders did so successfully and safely.  

And research by bushfire scientists covering 100 years of bushfires, 
has found that a far greater proportion of people have died while evacuating than while defending.

The editorial’s remark that:
‘the recent fires suggest that we have abandoned the “she’ll be right mate” approach that in the past led people to confront wildfires in thongs and shorts’,
is not borne out by the paper’s own news photos of defenders and evacuees. Where are their pictures of anyone in protective clothing? It is just as lethal to be to ‘confront wildfires’ in thongs and shorts whilst trying to escape, as it is while trying to protect one’s home.

The editorial also made derogatory remarks about householders protecting their homes with ‘nothing more than a garden hose’ and having an ‘unrealistic faith in the lifesaving capacity of a water pump or sprinkler system’. This is shameful.

The realistic fact is that many, many people have saved their homes from the very worst bushfires with just this equipment. And why should they not?  Homes, and all the precious things they contain, are important to people.

On days of heart-rending decision-making, many families are persuaded that, ‘It doesn’t matter about the house’.
But it matters afterwards.

Afterwards, when they stand in front of the pile of rubble that was once the essence of their life. As the newspaper’s photos show and news stories tell. It matters when the days and years drag on and on in what they expected to be temporary emergency housing.

Protecting one’s home matters not only to the family concerned. It matters to their neighbours, to their community and to the state. Vacated houses have the highest percentage of destructions. Each burning house sends off its embers to ignite more houses. The state’s housing stock is already in crisis. Each house lost to bushfire makes it worse.  

The unrealistic faith 
is a blind faith in the unfailing lifesaving capacity of ‘getting out’.