Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Because my article in yesterday’s Age (Dec 30/13), titled ‘Beware the official advice on bushfire safety’ has received some adverse comments, alleging lack of evidence, I need to point out that it was affected by some editorial cuts.

Though it began with: ‘Are bushfire authorities in Victoria telling lies or damn lies about bushfire danger statistics?’  relevant statistics  were cut.

1. Towards the middle of the article, I had validated my inference to the folly of  encouraging mass evacuation on inevitably extremely hot days, which led to people and animals ‘travelling in confined quarters for long distances, subject to heat stress’ with the statistic that although
‘on Black Saturday, 173  people died in the bushfires, 300 died of heat stress’.

2. Near the end of the article, following the statistics:
Research has revealed that for 70 per cent of Black Saturday fatalities, no evidence was found of any kind of home defence and only 3-5 per cent had been actively defending homes
the scientifically researched facts were qualified as mere suggestions, by the editorial insertion of the word ‘some’ and ‘suggests’:
It also found some people did not die because they stayed with their homes - but because they did not know how to do so safely. There is research and expert opinion that suggests people following safe procedure can survive in their homes.’
The understanding is quite different as I wrote it:
It also found that people did not die because they stayed with their homes - but because they did not know how to do so safely. That very few such fatalities had a comprehensive fire plan, that 69% were sheltering inappropriately, and that most did not wear suitable clothing.’

3. The further statistics:
There has been nothing in any research to show that anyone following safe procedure died in their homes. A Bushfire CRC investigation into Black Saturday bushfire deaths found that less than 1% were well prepared for evacuation.’
were cut before the piece was run on to:
A late 2009 report from the Office of the Emergency Commissioner expressed concern that 83 per cent of residents in fire zones would wait for official ''relocation'' advice. This advice, it says, is never issued until ''conditions are extreme''.

The following is detailed Black Saturday research data revealing the actual causes of deaths in and around houses that day. These statistics have been verified as a correct precis of the report by research team member Damien Killalea.

Black Saturday, February 7, 2009 data
(from the Review of fatalities in the February 7, 2009, bushfires, Final Report. Prepared for the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission April 2010 (Bushfire CRC Centre for Risk and Community, 13 April 2010.), by John Handmer, Saffron O’Neil and Damien Killalea.)
• Very few of those who died had a comprehensive fire plan.
Ø      34% had intended to stay and defend their properties.
Ø      26% had intended to wait and see before committing to stay or go.
Ø      8% had intended to stay at their property but to seek shelter.
Ø      5% provided no evidence of any intention.
• Of the fatalities who had decided to stay and defend:
Ø      20% were found to be well prepared.
- Research criteria for this was ‘appropriate activity before 1.30 pm’ that day.
Ø      14% had made some preparations.
• Of the fatalities who had decided to evacuate:
Ø      Under 1% were well prepared; lacking even a ‘cue’ to go and a known destination.
Ø      5% had a vague idea of a destination and cue to go.
• 30% of fatalities showed some evidence of fire-fighting defence. Of these:
Ø      5% were carrying out active defence at the time of their deaths.
Ø      25% were classified as carrying out some or questionable defence.
• For 70% of people who died no evidence was found of any kind of defence.
• 69% of Black Saturday fatalities occurred while people were sheltering:
Ø      34% of all fatalities, in the house generally.
 – Almost all of these, 27%, were in the bathroom.
Ø      8% outside in a shed, spa, bunker or outhouse.
• 22% of Black Saturday fatalities occurred outside the house.
Ø      15.6% outside a house.
Ø      3% on roadways.
Ø      3% near cars.
Ø      0.4% in open land reserves.
• 14% of people who died were fleeing in cars or on foot without suitable clothing.
Ø      Total deaths amounted to 1.24% of the 14 000 residents of the bushfire areas.

Two further reports found that approximately 80% of  those who stayed to defend their homes did so successfully.
Issues in Community Bushfire Safety: Analyses of Interviews Conducted by the
2009 Victorian Bushfires Research Task Force (Report Number 4: 2011), Jim McLennan, Glenn Elliott and Mary Omodei
International Journal of Wildfire, Whittaker, Haynes, Handmer and McLennan, pp 841-849.