This article was originally a post to the discussion in response to the article "Fire bunkers could have helped in the Victorian fires" of 10 Feb 09 and a subsequent comment by Joan Webster, an author of books on bushfire safety. Since then, Joan has written a related article "How misconceptions about bushfire bunkers may cost lives" in which she argues that the sort of designs promoted in the article and in associated comments may prove to be death traps. However, an obvious problem with the type of fire shelters advocated by Joan is the greatly increased financial costs. Also, there are ecological costs entailed in clearing the necessary amount of bush from around the fire shelters. This clearing on the scale necessary would almost certainly make Australia as whole, still hotter and dryer than it already is and, therefore, on the whole even more prone to bushfires. These kinds of considerations no doubt motivated Tigerquoll to write the comment whihc has been turned into the article below. - JS
What has been avoided in this Victorian bushfire debate are the fire fighting statistics. Where are the fire fighting operational metrics showing the time between ignition and detection and response and suppression?
Is anyone considering the fundamental task of effective bush fire fighting as a key cause of this disaster? The operational metrics, if indeed collated, would be alarming to the general public. The unprecedented extreme risk of uncontrollable wildfires was known to fire fighting operations management, yet no extraordinary resources were deployed in advance. Hours, not minutes, lapsed between ignitions, detection and responses. As a consequence, suppressions via a tired old truck-centric response methodology was demonstrably grossly inadequate. CFA responses were absolute failures in the tactical response to the February 2009 Victorian Bushfires. The whole show descended into an incompetent stuff up which resorted to the worst case scenario - 'every man for himself'. Only vigilante fire response had a chance of working. Acceptable may be in 1909, but not in a sophisticated 2009 supported by millions in annual funding and research. The response at strategic management level was keystone. The field response was like a gallant Gallipoli.
The Marysville community like others didn't deserve official response approach of 'too hard basket' and abandonment. The result was incineration entrapment. This is the lesson of the incompetence of the CFA, DSE and Emergency Management Australia.
An ignition started in the bush is not an uncontrollable tsunami. But in conditions like that in January 2009 in Victoria, an ignition and more so multiple ignitions become equivalent to a tsunami if conditions, delay and inadequate resources are a combined factors.
The systemic failure to deal with 'before-the-fact' (ignition) causes is just as vital in being effective at bush fire fighting. I am not talking about slashing and burning the Aussie bush like an 'Agent Orange' sortie over Vietnam to eliminate all threat and wildlife habitat. I am talking about grossly negligent housing approvals in extreme bushfire areas, about grossly negligent property owners building houses out of flammable materials and doing squat about bushfire preparedness, about governments at all levels that fail to prepare bushfire prone populations and that fail to effectively communicate emergency drills to protect their lives, and that fail to provide sufficient resources to stop bushfires killing people.
Police are only this week interviewing residents around Bendigo to try to identify the suspected arsonist of that fire - five months later as a one-off investigation. Why did Brumby wait 5 months to investigate? I wager the arsonist involved could have been detected well in advance had a co-ordinated permanent bush arson squad been established long ago complete with specialist criminologists, psychologists, experienced bush fire investigators, criminal investigators, etc and enough resources to allow them to do their job.
I have no time for political band-aids or government responses that invariably involve millions that do not address the root causes of the problem. The bush itself, as habitat to millions of Australian animals must first be respected as the mutual innocent victim. Bushphobic responses by fanatics calling for scorched earth blanket responses will only fuel greater ecological catastrophe.
See also: "How misconceptions about bushfire bunkers may cost lives" of 21 June 09 and "Fire bunkers could have helped in the Victorian fires" of 10 Feb 09.