This Friday will mark the 10th anniversary of the 2003 Canberra bush fires, and February sees the 30th anniversary of the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires. Subsequent research into these events and the 2009 Black Saturday fires has contributed significantly to our knowledge about bush fires. This month we feature a few examples of the research which has followed major fires in Australia.

 This month’s featured resources are:

Five to six years following the Canberra bush fires, interviews were conducted with 25 adults directly affected with 6 of these participants interviewed following Black Saturday. How are they now? What influence has these fires had on their lives? The findings of this important research are both encouraging and life affirming. “All participants reported one or more positive life events arising from the fires or achieved despite the fires.”

Immediately following the February fires, the Bushfire CRC established a research taskforce to undertake extensive data collection and analysis of these devastating fires. This 2010 paper written by Dr Richard Thornton is compelling reading, especially in regard to their initial findings regarding human behaviour on the day. “There was evidence that a considerable amount of last-minute planning and preparation took place on the day and many examples of ‘weak links’ in people’s planning and preparation that affected their ability to implement their fire plan”.

We Have Still Not Lived Long Enough (2009 Alfred Deakin Prize Essay Advancing Public Debate)

Tom Griffiths took the title for his essay from Judge Leonard Stretton, describing Australia’s relationship with fire following the 1939 Black Friday fires in Victoria and applied it the events of 2009. “There is a dangerous mismatch between the cyclic nature of fire and the short-term memory of communities.”

This article provides detailed research and analysis into the circumstances surrounding 32 people who perished in the Ash Wednesday. First published internationally in 1992, this research is still considered to be of significant value especially in relation to bush fire preparedness and the dangers of late evacuation, especially by vehicle.

“The victims of these fires died because they (a) implemented an ineffective survival strategy; (b) had insufficient warning; or (c) were incapable of implementing an effective survival strategy without support.”

Scientific research into bush fire house loss began in earnest following these fires. CSIRO scientists surveyed 1153 houses that survived the 1983 fires, publishing their findings in 1987. The article includes an explanation of so called “exploding house” phenomenon and the crucial part people play in house survival along with further data on ember ignition.

This updated edition of what is now considered one of the finest collection of essays in fire ecology and management by leading scientists including;

  • The Prehistory of Fire in Australasia
  • Fire Regimes and the Evolution of the Australia Biota
  • Global Change and Fire Regimes in Australia

With a concluding chapter Future Fire Regimes of Australian Ecosystems: New Perspectives on Enduring Questions of Managementby editors Bradstock, Williams and Gill. They observe that traditionally “fire research was strongly centred in forestry disciplines” but much has now changed.

“Social scientists, geographers, spatial and remote-sensing scientists, and climate modellers, among others, are now vigorously engaged in ‘solving’ the puzzle of fire”.

We can also help you track down information on a specific topic or for a research project. If you have any queries please contact us in the Library by email:  RFS.Library@rfs.nsw.gov.au or phone: 8741 5455.

The NSW Rural Fire Service Library is a member of ALIES – Australasian Libraries in the Emergency Sector.

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