This article was sent to us by one of our readers. It was published in The Australian.
THE first test of the 2014-15 fire season has led to criticism of the official “leave and live” policy, with one bushfire expert attacking it as “stupid” and likely to lead to more deaths.
Former CSIRO fire expert David Packham said political fear following the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria had restrained objective analysis and research into bushfire management, and the current warning could result in people dying on the roads when they would have been safer at home.
“There are definitely lesser numbers of people who die inside buildings than die outside buildings,” he said.
“After Black Saturday, premier (John) Brumby came out and made this big decision that we’re going to tell people to leave early because that’s a bit of bum-covering. It is clearly a stupid policy. I would never, ever end up out on the roads if there was a fire. I would be behind the walls for the 10 minutes when my life is in danger, then I would be outside doing things.”
Mr Packham said previous advice for people to stay and defend their homes if they were prepared was still relevant for a population educated about bushfires. “To ‘leave early’ — unless it’s 11 o’clock (in the morning) or the day before — will result in more deaths,” he said.
The Black Saturday royal commission found that leaving early was the safest option, but staying to defend a well-prepared, defendable home was also a sound choice in less severe fires. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews yesterday defended the ‘leave and live’ policy. “The message is all about saving lives and that’s the lesson that’s come from significant fire events in the past and that’s what will guide us in the future,” he said.
“It’s about saving lives, a simple concise message and we make no apology for (it).”
Victorian Emergency Management commissioner Craig Lapsley has warned that people who consider themselves well-prepared and physically fit enough to defend their properties also need to consider the long-term ramifications, particularly if their families also remain at home.
“These are traumatic events,” he said. “If you think you’re going to withstand a fire and you have the ability to physically and mentally do that you will still be traumatised. These are events that change your life forever.”
The ‘leave and live’ policy encourages people to leave early before a fire starts, instead of adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach.