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Bushfire Defense

Image credit: Aussie_Pecker/flickr

This is a place to interactively examine the lessons from the 2009 Victorian Bushfires and similar events, with a view to finding solutions to the problems of living in an environment that can produce such fires.

Individual isolated houses and tree lined streets need to be re-engineered to allow amenity and survivability.

Population pressure, social expectations, the Australian Dream and Climate Change combine to put more and more lives at risk of bushfire.

Many assumptions will need to be challenged. Things as simple as blacktop (asphalt) road surfaces have contributed to the tragedy.

Please don't feel constrained by budget or technology, treat this as a brainstorming exercise. In 1939 radio communications were in their infancy and cell phones were science fiction.

Commenting on this Page will be automatically closed on April 12, 2009.


Which organisations are you thinking of pitching these ideas to? Local community groups? State governments?

Collectively, whoever will listen.

Just listening to the media reports we've learnt that people didn't know you need: metal standpipes to avoid them melting; electric start pumps so you don't have to take time out from fire fighting to start them; bunkers to wait out the worst of the fireball; hoses bigger than the usual common or garden type to deliver useful amounts of water.

The Brumby government has announced a Royal Commission into the bushfires. An influential document in this Commission will be material from the National Inquiry on Bushfire Management and Mitigation, established by COAG.

My initial thoughts on the matter have the following schema.

Scope\Strategy Technological Solutions Social Solutions
Strategic e.g., country-wide warning systems e.g., country-wide bushfire fire
Tactical e.g., local water supplies, community fireproofed buildings e.g., education strategies

Submission to Royal Commission

1.0 The 2008–09 Australian Bushfires

Comparison with 2006-07 Australian bushfire season - burning over 1.1 million hectares of land over the course of ten weeks and 1994 Eastern seaboard fires, over 8,000 square kilometres.

Major droughts in Australia correlate with severe bushfire seasons (e.g., Black Friday fires of 1939, Tasmanian fires of 1967, Ash Wednesday fires of 1983, South-East Australia 2006-2007).

On reporting the fires

Q&A: Victorian bushfires

2.0 Causes of the Fire

2.1 God

Abortion laws to blame for bush fires?
February 10th, 2009

See also Westbro church planned protest 02/22/2009

2.2 "Too many trees, Green policies"

Victoria bushfires stoked by green vote,25197,25031389-7583,00.html
David Packham | February 10, 2009

Green ideas must take blame for deaths

Trees are valuable, in the right place

2.3 Arson

Various reports on Brendan Sokaluk

South Australian Premier Mike Rann labels arsonists 'terrorists',25197,25025729-5006787,00.html
February 08, 2009

2.4 Climate Change

Bushfires — just chance, or climate change?

Climate change stoking bushfires (from 2006)

The fires of climate change

Victoria 'could face worse fire danger next summer'

3.0 Results

3.1 Human Cost

Bushfire death toll rises to 208

3.2 Wildlife Cost

Zoos Victoria director of science and conservation Graeme Gillespie believes the number of animals that perished in the fires has been underestimated. "Back of envelope calculations put it in the tens or hundreds of millions of animals that have been killed in these fires," he said.

3.3 Economic Cost

4.0 Future Potential Causes

4.1 Terrorism

Islam group urges forest fire jihad
September 7, 2008

4.2 Lack of Cooperation

CFA didn't want us: city crews

5.0 Solutions

Could they have been prevented

Compare with research conducted at the Bushfire CRC

(See above schema)

5.1 Strategic Technological

5.2 Strategic Social

Army 'should be better prepared' for disaster response

5.3 Tactical Technological

Guy Williams' home

Cellars and dugouts could become death traps, warns expert

5.4 Tactical Social

Submission to Royal Commission

2.3 Arson

Arson accused refused bail

AN ALEXANDRA man alleged to have deliberately sparked a fire that ripped through a neighbour's car and extensively damaged her home was yesterday refused bail in a Shepparton court.

2.4 Climate Change

Anatomy of a firestorm

5.1 Strategic Technological

Clearing patches of trees for farms and plantations is destabilising the forest ecosystem, making it drier and more vulnerable to fires, says a study

Tougher fire regulations

Standards Australia has accelerated the new building regulations - AS 3959 Construction of Buildings in Bushfire-prone Areas - in response to the Victorian bushfires.

Ron Coffey, chairman of the Fire Protection Association of Australia, said the new national building standard being considered by Victoria would greatly improve survivability of houses.

Housing Industry Association acting Victorian executive director Robert Harding said while it was easier to work with the new standards, the highest levels of heat-resistance would result in big cost increases.

Wild Fire Risk Assessment

Research Objective: In order to improve planning and management of fire-fighting efforts as well as fire recovery activities, the OESC is attempting to introduce a standard classification of “assets” (including economic, social and environmental classes), a set of spatial data, and a risk model. The introduction of this standard model will allow improved collaboration between fire-fighting stakeholders at a state-wide level through to a local level. The Wildfire Risk Assessment Mapping project will allow local users to modify values associated with the spatial data, in order to reflect local knowledge. For example a road may be assigned a low value and be classified as such, but knowing that it is the only road between two towns it may be reclassified to reflect its true value.

5.3 Tactical Technological

Land-clearing laws to change in wake of fires

LAWS governing the clearing of native vegetation are under review as part of the Brumby Government's response to the bushfire crisis.

Following strong public debate on being able to clear vegetation near homes following Victoria's devastating bushfires, the State Government has begun talking to building and local government groups on possible changes to the laws.

Ideas have included transferring responsibility for managing native vegetation in areas zoned for housing from the Department of Sustainability and Environment to the Department of Planning and Community Development.
Take a pause to sort the firewood from the trees

See Anna Bunbury letter on woodland management

My understanding is that a number of deaths occurred because people who fled had nowhere to go after towns were cut off quite early on in the fires.

Would it be a sensible idea to built a central bushfire shelter in every town? Make a building out of a strong, non-burning material that can be well insulated and sealed (metal shutters for the windows, for example), with a cleared space around it, to which people can go in the case of a fire. Obviously, having a building just standing empty all year round would not be efficient, but if you make that building the pub, or the general store, or somewhere else that most people in the town go to all the time (and can thus find their way too blindfold, or smoke-blind), it would not just be a fire shelter but a reasonably comfortable place to wait out the fires.

I recognise that fire shelters in individual houses would be a better solution for those who leave it too late to get out, but this would be a less expensive place to start - and I think bushfires are terrifying enough that some people might prefer to shelter in company with other people.

I don't know if we have the materials or technology to build this sort of shelter (though I had the impression something like this had been done up at Mount Lofty after the Adelaide bushfires a while back), but it might be an idea to explore?


Shelters would be a good idea but use with care; compare the two articles above "Gary Williams' Home" and "Cellars and dugouts could become death traps, warns expert"

I hope the find a solution to bushfires this is really sad

you are a loud of crap and and i wasted 1 minuite off my life doing this. when i could have been doing something more valuable.

.. like learning grammar and spelling, perchance?


A few years ago I had a letter published in the Melbourne’s Age which
highlighted the fragmented nature of Victoria’s fire services. Its
publication was followed by the publication of a salvo of letters that
defended the status quo. Criticising Victoria’s ability to handle the
increasing threat bushfires pose in the state as a result of changing
weather patterns due to global warming was prior to the disaster on
the 7th February last year akin to claiming formula milk was best for

The Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission after months of taking
evidence from victims as well as the authorities who were responsible
for the state’s safety confirms what many Victorians were aware of
before 7th February 2009. The state’s approach to bushfires has been
dominated by the opinions of people who were found to be asleep at the
wheel when it mattered. The Commissioners have refused to blame
individuals for the disaster. What they have done is much, much more
important. They have demonstrated the systematic weakness in a system
that is only effective on paper. They have made recommendations that
cover the re-establishment of community shelters, the state purchasing
properties that cannot be defended in bushfires, community education
programs and an overhaul of a system that has been demonstrated to be
ineffective on many previous occasions.

The primary issue today is whether the state government will bite the
bullet and take steps to implement the Royal Commissioner’s
recommendations. In a user pay era it is highly likely the Brumby led
state government will make all the right noises about implementing the
Commissioner’s findings but will not allocate the resources to make
the recommended changes a reality.

The depressing aspect of the Royal Commissioner’s findings is they
almost, word for word, mirror the finding of the 1939 Stretton Royal
Commission into the Black Friday Fires and the findings of the 1983
Ash Wednesday Royal Commission. Let’s hope this time the government
of the day implements their recommendations. Not to do so is a major
abrogation of the state’s responsibility to its citizens.

Use of social media networks in natural disasters

My friend was involved in a bad bush fire that spread to a hostel quite a few years ago and he rescued a girl from the fire but tragically lost a couple friends to the fire. He's still really cut up about it to this day. I think you are right that education and prevention is key to helping to reduce the number and severity of fires. Let's just hope people listen and more importantly take the appropriate action.

Scott Johnson

This is a really entertaining Site that you've put up there. I registered to your Page's RSS and hope you post more stuff that are equally well written.
Thanks :-)

Media Release – Fire Stations closed as Sydney burns
September 10, 2013

Bushfires expose O’Farrell Government budget cuts:
Off-duty crews called-in due to five stations being closed

NSW Government budget cuts have meant that when today’s bushfire emergency hit, five Sydney fire stations were closed, and resources had already been diverted from four others.

The Fire Brigade Employees’ Union said fire stations in Camden, Riverwood, Miranda, Mona Vale and Ryde were all closed due to budget cuts today, requiring Macquarie Fields, Ashfield, Botany and Newtown to be left vacant as crews were sent to cover their areas, while Ryde was not covered at all.

As today’s bushfire emergency hit — with multiple fires in Western Sydney, the Hawkesbury, Blue Mountains and the Central Coast — Fire and Rescue NSW has had to recall off-duty firefighters to cover the gaps and closures.

At Castlereagh, where a large fire is impacting rural properties, the local fire station was also closed on both Sunday and Monday this week.

FBEU secretary Jim Casey said the nature of these bushfires had shown just how irresponsible the O’Farrell Government’s policy of closing fire stations was.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that hot weather and strong winds can mean bushfires, but it appears to be news to the O’Farrell Government who have been caught with their pants down today,” Mr Casey said.

“Off-duty fire crews had to be called in as neighbouring stations raced to protect life and property, all because budget cuts have left large areas of Sydney without adequate fire protection.

“Budget cuts and the irresponsible policy of closing fire stations meant that as fire conditions developed into a major emergency today, fire stations across the city were shut.

“With fire stations closed, it only takes one major incident in Sydney — like a serious house or factory fire — and resources would be overstretched.”

Mr Casey said the State Government’s reckless approach to public safety was unsustainable, with today’s blazes catching them out well before the official start of the fire season.

“We have been warning the community and the Government about this for some time,” Mr Casey said.

“Fire stations, like all emergency services, are there for a reason — to respond quickly and on short notice.

“Current budget cuts mean the State Government are treating fire protection like a game of musical chairs, shuffling resources around the city and hoping they aren’t caught out.

“At some stage the music will stop and they will be left exposed, with communities around Sydney and the State the ones that will suffer.

“The FBEU is urging the NSW Government to lift these budget cuts and end the practice of temporarily closing fire stations, especially with the experts warning of a dangerous fire season ahead.”

Jim Casey
State Secretary

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Community safety during the 2009 Australian ‘Black Saturday’ bushfires: an analysis of household preparedness and response

On Saturday 7 February 2009, 173 people lost their lives and more than 2000 houses were destroyed in bushfires (wildfires) in the Australian State of Victoria. The scale of life and property loss raised fundamental questions about community bushfire safety in Australia, in particular the appropriateness of the ‘Prepare, stay and defend or leave early’ policy. This paper presents findings from research undertaken as part of the Australian Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre’s (CRC) ‘2009 Victorian Bushfires Research Taskforce’. The research examined factors influencing patterns of life and property loss and survival across the fires through mail surveys (n = 1314) of fire affected households. Just over half of the respondents (53%) stayed to defend their homes and properties, whereas the remainder left before or when the fires arrived (43%) or sheltered in a house, structure, vehicle, or outside (4%). Results reveal a survival rate of 77% for houses that were defended by one or more household members, compared to 44% for unattended houses. The paper identifies inadequate planning and preparedness and the tendency for people to wait until they are directly threatened before taking action as major factors leading to late evacuation, failed defence and passive shelter.