Monday, February 9, 2009

Australians 'unprepared' for fire's fury

ABC Science (Australia): Australians remain unprepared to deal with bushfires despite a long history of loss and devastation from natural disasters, according to some of the country's leading bushfire researchers. The comments come as Australia deals with the loss of more than 126 lives and 700 homes after devastating bushfires swept the southern state of Victoria.

In the wake of the nation's worst fire in recorded history, other experts are also warning worse may be yet to come with climate change and drought increasing the ferocity and duration of bushfires. Psychology professor Douglas Paton, of the University of Tasmania, says levels of preparedness to deal with bushfires within at-risk communities in Australia are "generally low".

Paton, a researcher with the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre, says this lack of preparedness for bushfires is a significant public policy issue. It is a problem that has been heightened by the increase in migration of people to semirural areas beyond the edge of cities.

…Paton says one of the main inhibitions in people preparing for the bushfire season is in whether they believe their actions will be effective. "The biggest constraint is these people believe the fires themselves will be too big and catastrophic for their actions to make any difference." He says the media plays a role in this view developing as coverage of bushfires, often focuses on the loss and devastation.

…Bushfire CRC chief executive officer Gary Morgan says the weekend's fires "show that many communities need to rethink the notion of who lives in a bushfire zone and who needs to be educated and prepared". Morgan says climate change, weather and drought are altering the nature, ferocity and duration of bushfires and an ageing and declining volunteer population are challenging the way fire agencies are going to be able to manage these events….

Smoke in the air during a 2007 fire south of Perth, Australia, shot by Gnangarra, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License

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