Friday, February 05, 2010

He's got a point

It's certainly not usual for me to read an Andrew Bolt article and find myself nodding along in agreement, but this story makes a lot of sense.

Black Saturday, in terms of the history of bushfires, was an anomaly. A rare, devastating event the likes of which we've not seen before. It challenged some of the advice given by the fire-fighting authorities, and provoked a Royal Commission which increasingly looks like a witch-hunt, given the individual authorities are represented by one legal counsel, meaning their individual interests will not be served by that counsel.

The big question for me though, is do we reject conventional wisdom - based on years of studies and a history of success in survival rates in bushfires - or do we abandon what we know based on one catastrophe, that we don't know for sure will occur again?

I used to live in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. My family - the family I lived with when I first came to this country, still does, just inside the borders of the National Park. There's a verandah out the back overlooking the valley, and we used to sit there, feet on the railings watching the fires crest the furthest hill - three or so kilometres away - and be told there was no immediate danger.

That was based on the advice of the park rangers and the Fire Authorities. If that had been Black Saturday, leaving even then may have been too late.

How do you prepare for something like Black Saturday? Do we flee every time when a Code Certain Death is called and gradually become complacent as to when to go, ignoring that the best advice previously - the most successful strategies - have always been based on preparing yourself and your property and knowing how to defend yourself and your property? Do we wipe the advice based on years of study and go with Code Useless Panic evacuations that will gradually ebb away the diligence of people evacuating, so they're neither preparing themselves in the most effective way possible, nor leaving before it's too late?

I don't know the answers. It would be a shame if we don't learn anything from Black Saturday, but shouldn't we be careful that what we put in place is based on fact and not on Panic Overdrive?

We drove up to Kinglake on Australia Day, and the devastation was terrible. But looking at the trees, nature knows how to repair itself. Let's hope the communities do as well.


Jayne said...

We must learn from these horrific events and take better precautions - so often CFA brigades reported less than 50% turnout of locals to talks and training on being fire ready.
Too often people expect a fire truck in every driveway to save them.
CFA need better funding on the ground, not in the hierarchy, too many chiefs not enough indians.
Today (Feb 6) was the date of the Black Thursday bushfires in 1851, then in 1939 we had the Black Friday fires which wiped out many towns, not forgetting Ash Wednesday in 1983, Red Tuesday 1898, Black Monday 1865 and Black Sunday 1926.
When these are all laid out - including the various not-as-savage bushfires in between - these are seen as not one-off events but possibly a combination of complacency, ignorance, ineffectual clearing, deliberate arson and Mother Nature.
I noticed that within 5 years following Ash Wednesday houses in Cockatoo were surrounded by thick clumps of trees grown up beside and over the top of them, everyone, including the govt bodies, soon forgets the true fury of a fire.
And then we pay the price.

Keri said...

I couldn't agree more, the CFA need more funding, and as a whole we need to be more complacent.

What I guess I was saying is that in terms of human life - in terms of the greatest loss of life being those who chose to stay and fight - this fire WAS an anomaly.

We need, need, need to be listening to the advice in terms of clearing scrub and fuel reduction around the home. And I don't know if having a Code Crazy Panic is going to help with that, because I can see us being complacent and not doing the simple things we know work.

Keri said...

Less complacent, LESS complacent!