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Victorian fire danger not yet over

Victims share tales of survival

Reporter: Samantha Donovan

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Well while the firefighters keep up the fight, relief workers have had their work
cut out as well.

The World Today's Sam Donovan is at a relief centre at Whittlesea, north-east of Melbourne where
hundreds of people have gathered after fleeing the fires at Kinglake.

And Sam joins us on the phone now; what's the picture there?

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Oh Brendan, it's a scene I'd have to say of great despair and dread, I would have
to say. I'm standing out looking at the crowd milling in front of the activity centre here, which
has been set up as a relief centre.

Walking through you see lots of people in tears, lots of people hugging each other. I saw a woman
who looked a bit teary but she looked okay and I walked up and asked her how she was going, and she
told me that it had just been confirmed that her 18-year-old nephew had been found dead in the
fires, along with a couple of his mates.

She said he was a young man who is trained in firefighting, knows about fires, but that perhaps
gives us just some sort of idea of the magnitude of what hit the Kinglake area.

I came across another gentleman called Christopher Harvey, and this is what he had to tell me about
his experience.

CHRISTOPHER HARVEY: It's a disaster, it wasn't a fire. This was, everything else that we've stayed
and looked at before were campfires, this was an absolute inferno. There was no chance of fighting
or taking care of this fire. Our whole road's destroyed. Our neighbours are gone, we all built our
houses there about 20-25 years ago because we wanted to live in paradise.

We built ourselves mud-brick houses, we built ourselves log houses, we built beautiful, different
homes with our hands because we didn't want anybody else to build... people over the road who are
gone, they lived in a caravan whilst they were building their house and we built ours at the same
time. They're all gone.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Mr Harvey, how did you manage to get out?

CHRISTOPHER HARVEY: Look we left at about 1.40pm we had to pick our daughter up from the airport
and when nobody wanders, the community fireguard, the tree, nothing, nothing weren't the CFA.

We had an organisation where somebody would call if there was a fire and we would get together and
warn somebody. You would have time to leave. This was just so quick, we were driving down the
mountain, we could, at the end of the road we could see the plume of smoke, the wind was blowing
from the north, the fire was going south, it was in Kilmore, it was a long way from us and when we
were coming down the mountain, it was just like a rocket blast of hot air, leaves, debris just
blowing across the road that was when Mount Disappointment, it just went straight across to Mount
Disappointment in a second.

We got down the mountain and then our daughter, we rang her up, told her to get out because she had
been up to our other farm where there's another fire up in the north-east. And she got out, my
family's safe, we've got, we've lost our home with all our treasures in it. It was just tragic.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Mr Harvey, how many neighbours do you think you've lost?

CHRISTOPHER HARVEY: All of them. There's only Jean and Steve and Steve and Leanne and their
families. Our next-door-neighbours are up the mountain because their kid had a, their child had a
doctor's appointment. Everybody's gone. Everybody's gone. Everybody, their houses are gone. This is
our house, this is our, that's it. They're all dead in their houses there, everybody's dead. I saw
it in the newspaper, they're all dead.


CHRISTOPHER HARVEY: Our little, our 20-year-old Maltese terrier, was suffering from the heat. We
brought her in because we were going to go back. She's dead.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: We hear so much talk about fire plans and being prepared, but it sounds like
nothing could have prepared anyone for this.

CHRISTOPHER HARVEY: No, this was an eruption, the bush erupted, it ignited all at once, it wasn't
coming towards you at one, 10 miles an hour, 10 kilometres an hour like we understand fires with
small spots. It was, the bottom of the mountain was on fire and then when the south-westerly wind
change came on. It just, the whole thing just exploded. It was literally, literally an inferno. It
was an inferno.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: One of the horrific stories from Victoria's bushfires. Samantha Donovan is on the

Well, how are they managing to work out who needs help immediately?

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Yes, Brendan. It's a very complex operation. People, organisations like the Red
Cross and the Salvation Army are here taking lists. The impression I'm sure you got from Mr
Harvey's comments is such a sense of uncertainty. People don't know where relatives or neighbours
are. So they're hoping against hope that they're going to run into people here or have some good
news. But yes, people are working feverishly here to find housing.

I was up at Wallan at the relief centre there and earlier today, people are ringing in with offers
of housing. So it really is a great community response but somebody said to me there are about 400
people here, I think there are many more than that. Just people everywhere. Of course a lot of them
stayed here last night at the relief centre and they'll be here for many days to come, I think
Brendan, or relocated somewhere else. As we've just heard, with that very horrific scene at
Kinglake, we know that it is going to take a long time for the assessment teams to sadly recover
all the people who have been killed.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: I can hear children in the background, how are they coping?

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Yes, I suppose parents are doing a very good job of keeping the children happy.
Children are running around, the volunteers are making a great job of trying to put some smiles on
their faces. At both the relief centres I've been at and I'm seeing some unloaded from a car right
in front of me now, people just keep turning up to donate toys or clothes or, so there are plenty
of things to keep children's minds occupied at least. A lot more troubling though for many of the
adults though here.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Samantha Donovan at a relief centre at Whittlesea, north-east of Melbourne.

Military bolsters relief effort

Reporter: Lyndal Curtis

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Defence Forces are arriving in bushfire blackened areas of Victoria today and it
could be a long assignment.

More than half of the contingent are reservists who had been preparing to be sent to the Solomons.

But their new role stateside will include building fire breaks, clearing roads and providing tents
and beds.

The Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has told chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis that the
Defence Forces will also help search for bodies.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: One of the roles of our people to find people that didn't make it through these
tragic events.

LYNDAL CURTIS: That will be a grim task. Do they have much experience in doing this?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: They are trained to handle these situations, but that doesn't mean it's not very,
very difficult for them. Of course, they are there in support of all those other organisations and
authorities who are overstretched and who themselves are facing a very, very difficult time
psychologically. So I think the defence presence there will be very, very important.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Do you expect that presence to increase as the task of recovery goes on?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: It could increase. We've made it clear to the Victorian Government - the
Australian Defence Force stands ready to do all it asks to do and all that we can possibly do to
help the state through what is a very, very tragic circumstance. And then of course I take this
opportunity to extend my sympathies to all those who've been affected.

LYNDAL CURTIS: You say some of the Defence Force work at least immediately will be helping fight
the fires. Are you sitting on meetings of emergency services today to find out what's needed?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: We certainly are. We're getting Michael Arnold, plays the lead role there. He in
fact he sat in on the meeting convened by the Prime Minister last night. We have an important role
to play. For your interest 140 of those army personnel are reservists who were training in
readiness for their deployment to the Solomon Islands. So they're about to get some real life
training ahead of that deployment.

LYNDAL CURTIS: And will this stretch defence resources at all, or are you perfectly geared up to
cope with an emergency on this sort of scale?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Of course it will stretch us. We are also operating in far north Queensland where
people are still facing great difficulty in the face of those floods and of course we were already
in a protracted phase of high operational tempo so, yes, this is putting pressure on the Defence
Force. But there's no task more important than this at this time, at this difficult time for both
those in Victoria and Queensland and of course members of the Australian Defence Force are more
than happy to do what they can.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Is it possible to say how long those Defence Force members may be required?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: No, it's certainly not. We've instructed Brigadier Arnold to do whatever the
Victorian Government asks of him and of course the circumstances are still unknown. We don't indeed
even know how many lives have been lost so this thing has got a long way yet to run. We'll be there
as long as people need us to be there.

LYNDAL CURTIS: So it's possible Defence Force members may be involved in the further clean up of
sites when it gets to that stage, you know, clearing sites just to start the rebuilding?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: I suspect the Defence Force will have a presence in the immediate region for some
time to come. I think there will be an ongoing role there as the people work through their
insurance, we'll even have people there able to provide counselling for those grieving and those
affected by the devastations so I don't think we'll be there any time soon.

LYNDAL CURTIS: And the Prime Minister said this morning that there is some temporary accommodation
on military bases available?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: That's right, we'll be making accommodation available on military bases and if the
demand becomes greater of course, we're always in a position to provide tents. But we hope it
doesn't come to that. We're confident that we can accommodate people in more permanent

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon speaking to chief political correspondent
Lyndal Curtis.

MPs subdued as death toll mounts

Reporter: Lyndal Curtis

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Federal politicians have been checking on family and friends caught up in the
disaster in Victoria.

The Prime Minister is in Melbourne, the Opposition leader has been touring some fire affected areas
this morning and the Family Services Minister Jenny Macklin will be in Victoria all week.

There's a sombre mood in federal politics.

Chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis joins us now.

Lyndal, I take it the point scoring and game playing usually associated with federal politics has
been suspended.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Yes, Brendan, it has been. The flags are flying at half mast at the Prime Minister's
residence, the Lodge, and at Parliament. That's a tangible sign for politicians arriving, of the
scale of the disaster that's unfolding in Victoria. Sittings today will focus only on the
far-ravaged communities. Question Time is being abandoned.

There will be a condolence motions in both Houses, but nothing else after those condolence motions.
The houses will then adjourn for the day. There were going to be two Senate inquiries into the
stimulus package. Ones been delayed until later today, another put off. And politicians on their
way into Parliament have been reluctant to comment on matters of politics, recognising this is not
the time for point scoring.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Which politicians have been directly affected by these fires?

LYNDAL CURTIS: Well some politicians from Victoria have been checking on family and friends. Family
First Senator Steve Fielding had a brother in Kinglake. He's okay. Another, Kelvin Thompson has
been checking on friends he visited in the area just last weekend, and they are okay.

As you said, Malcolm Turnbull's down in Victoria. He went down last night seeing for himself some
of the affected areas. Kevin Rudd's been in Victoria since yesterday. He will be staying there all
of today and likely, if he does return to Canberra, will be travelling back to Victoria again very
soon. Rudd has warned that he expects the news to get much, much worse and we saw with the
Victorian Premier John Brumby yesterday, the enormity of what has happened has affected Mr Rudd who
was moved to tears on a couple of occasions while speaking to Channel Nine this morning, when asked
about his thoughts and feelings.

KEVIN RUDD: The expressions of solidarity from around the world have been very important. When
we've had telephone calls from the British Prime Minister, the New Zealand Prime Minister and
others offering very practical support.

The New Zealand Prime Minister rang yesterday offering 100 firefighters. That's been conveyed to
people here in Victoria. The British Prime Minister rang late last night to express the support of
the British people. This is very good in terms of a combined national effort. We're engaged in a
very practical task here. And in terms of those at the front line of that task, bear a thought
today for people who are anxious and frightened as each of these houses is searched. Bear a though
in mind also for the individuals who are charged with the responsibility, be they from the army or
the police, to search each of these homes and each of these communities. This is an awful task but
as nation we're to come thorough this, we're going to come through it stronger.

CHANNEL NINE HOST: And Prime Minister, we're hearing this morning, more news I'm sure you've been
briefed by the police, but we were talking to Christine Nixon a little earlier and it has come to
light that it appears that a number of these fires that have claimed so much life and so much
damage in terms of property were deliberately lit. So much anger and frustration here,

KEVIN RUDD: Yeah... what do you say? What do you say about anyone like that? What do you say? I
don't know? Just no words to describe it. Other than it's mass murder.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Channel Nine.

Lyndal Curtis is with us from Canberra. What is the Federal Government doing?

LYNDAL CURTIS: Well the Federal Government is making emergency payments to those who have nothing,
who have just the clothes on their backs to get them some more clothes and toiletries and get them
through the next few days. There are Centrelink offices already in Victoria. The Treasurer has this
morning urged people not to call Centrelink unless it is urgent, to free up critical resources. As
we've heard, the military has gone in.

Mr Rudd this morning declared that communities will be rebuilt and the Government's turning its
mind on how to do that. State resources will be swamped and more and more the Government's
expecting, the Federal Government's expecting it will be carrying the load for that response.

Minds are turning also on how to pay for it all. There are suggestions that the Government should
look at reconfiguring its stimulus package to sending at least some of those funds to Victoria.
There are discussions going on at that question. The Opposition's looking at it. Something the
leadership of the Opposition has turned its mind to.

But out of respect for what has occurred over the weekend, I understand those discussion will be
held in private. So both sides of politics are seen to be working together. And of course, while
the tension is being rightly focussed on Victoria, there's still a serious flood emergency in
Queensland. The Government's keeping a close eye on that. A minister will be stationed up there all
this week in case it has to scale up its assistance there.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis joining us from Canberra.

Nation's top fire chiefs discuss tactics

Reporter: Brendan Trembath

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The heads of fire services across the country have held a national hook-up to
discuss the emergency, and determine where fire fighting resources should be deployed.

The meeting was organised by Euan Ferguson, the head of the South Australian Country Fire Service
and he joins us on the line now.

Well Mr Ferguson, what's been agreed to?

EUAN FERGUSON: Well, I suppose the first thing was we expressed our condolences for all those
affected by the fire. In particular, the response agencies in Victoria who, whilst they got a very
clear task, would be affected very deeply by what's going on around them.

We had a discussion and a very quick briefing on the overall situation. We don't fight Victoria's
fires for them, but it's important that the national fire fighting resources are applied in the
area of highest risk. So this is actually a follow up to a teleconference we had on Friday of last
week. As a result of that teleconference, a number of aircraft were moved into Victoria in
anticipation of that bad day. We need to recognise that last Friday, South Australia, northern
Tasmania, Victoria, ACT and New South Wales all faced extreme fire danger.

This morning we've reiterated various levels of support, both aircraft and firefighters and
specialist incident management personnel, which have come from New South Wales, ACT, Tasmania and
South Australia. The CEO of the Country Fire Authority, Neil Bibby, gave an indication as to where
he sees the situation in the next couple of days.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: What is that? What's the forecast as far as you've been told?

EUAN FERGUSON: Well a number of these fires are now burning deep in forest areas. There is a
significant length of control lines that needs to be established, particularly in the areas of
public land and heavy forest. That won't be resolved in days. I think the representative from the
Department of Sustainability and Environment indicated that they're now indicated at looking at a
couple of weeks perhaps before they secure all these control lines.

That in turn will allow agencies elsewhere to plan relief for their firefighters who are currently
deployed in Victoria and perhaps provide some specific support for deep forest fire fighting.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Euan Ferguson, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you very much for your time.

Euan Ferguson from the South Australian Country Fire Service involved in the national hook-up of
fire fighting chiefs today.

Shocked survivors survey the scene

Reporter: Michael Vincent

BRENDAN TREMBATH: As we've heard, one of the hardest hit towns is Kinglake, north of Melbourne.

Reporter Michael Vincent has been at a community meeting there and he joins me now.

Well Michael, what have you been hearing?

MICHAEL VINCENT: There's a lot of very, very distressed and frustrated people here. They feel
they've, they've obviously survived some of them to come out the other end and find and they
haven't got the supplies that they were expecting to arrive - power, water, fuel.

They have expressed their anger to the local authorities. There was a lot of roadblocks in place
because the roads aren't safe and at this stage they're just promising to do as much they can.

They've been taking people's names down and their needs, lists on one sheet for needs, one sheet
for medications, another sheet for contacting other relatives.

It's sort of organised chaos still, not everything is under control yet and people are frustrated,
they feel like they've been through a lot and they have and they want the help and they want it

BRENDAN TREMBATH: What have they been saying about the lack of warning?

MICHAEL VINCENT: The people have said that they heard the fire was, you know, 50 minutes drive
away. So they stayed at their homes and they saw the smoke on the horizon and 100 kilometre winds,
100 k/ph winds managed to bring it here within 15 minutes.

They sort of were like, "Well you know, I have a plan, when it comes closer I'll decide to do
something," and then it turned out at the last minute the fire was on them.

The people say they panicked, people say they had no idea it was going to come onto them that fast.
That's people who have water sprinklers, who've got the pumps, who've got everything they need to
protect their homes. Even some of those people didn't save their homes.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The wind is whipping up around you as you speak. What are conditions like there
at the moment?

MICHAEL VINCENT: The wind is still causing problems; it's going at about 60 k/ph. The CFA have had
had to put out a couple of spot fires this morning. They've still got 20 trucks in the area
whizzing about, going to various spots to try and keep those fires at bay.

They are threatening some properties, but it is nothing, nothing like Saturday where a wall of
fire, some people describe, has swept through and destroyed swathes and swathes of houses. The
people here are, I mean this community meeting - I was here overnight - there was a couple of
hundred people who came to this community meeting and one moment, it was just heart breaking, there
were two women, they looked at each other, they said, one of the them said, "Yeah, I'm here." And
that really summed it up that people are still reuniting with their friends.

And another guy who stayed overnight was Charles Exton, he's a farmer. He's lived here for 100
years, well no his family have been in the area for 100 years. He spent last night with nothing. He
had his clothes on his back and his car and he's been trying to organise water supplies to come in
and out and he's still helping, handing out sandwiches and the like. He spent last night basically
with the clothes on this back and his 16-year-old son Bradley.

CHARLES EXTON: We stayed out here and we slept in the ute, well we didn't sleep, we tried to sleep,
but there's just too much on our minds and I've got about seven, eight a head of sheep that I had
to worry about, and the cattle and the horses and went up the roads and there's been no animal
losses on my farm or anyone's I know of at this stage. But, I might get a better look today, but
we'll wait and see.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Are you dreading going back to your property?

CHARLES EXTON: At the home property when my mum was living we, I saved the house the night before
and I lost everything in my potatoes production. I lost my sheds, only 20 metres away, the cars,
the forklifts, the tractors, potato bins - everything that goes with potato growing was gone.

MICHAEL VINCENT: What about your home?

CHARLES EXTON: I lost my home as well. My daughter's home was next door. We lost that as well.
Shearing shed, sheep yard and about 80 per cent of the pastures.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Did your family get out alright though?

CHARLES EXTON: Yeah, I saved the family. I also run another business - I sell water to spring water
companies or for domestic use and I gathered all the family around those tanks, I had in storage
about 400,000 litres, and it runs off a three-phase electric motor so we had no problems about
power and being safe.

And a number of people coming off the roads from accidents and hitting trees and they all salvaged
around the tanks and...

MICHAEL VINCENT: You had people coming to you during the fire?

CHARLES EXTON: Yeah, people were standing there and the CFA and that were standing there because
there was nowhere else to go. And currently we're, I'm supplying the CFA Kinglake fire brigade to
fight spot fires all around the area to put out because there's no other water available.

MICHAEL VINCENT: You've been through an amazing amount throughout the last couple of days. How are
you dealing with it?

CHARLES EXTON: I'm just coping. You feel like breaking down but I just got a lot on my mind and the
family's okay and they are all out of town. My son stayed with me, but we've been here too long to
leave and you've got to help all these people and all my drivers and that have been working for two
to three days no sleep. Just keeping going and we'll do the best we can to get this town going

MICHAEL VINCENT: That could take some time.

CHARLES EXTON: Well the power's the biggest problem, the power station's partly damaged and it
could be months and months and months before it's ever slipped back. Everything's just burnt.
Everything, just destroyed.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Were you able to check on your neighbours and friends? Have you found out how
they've survived?

CHARLES EXTON: I've been to all to my neighbours around and they, the majority of the ones on farms
stayed and saved their houses; some spent on their own but it's only the odd house, could be 80 per
cent gone. I don't know. I only saved my mother's house, but we were trapped there me and one of
the workers. We were trapped there for four hours. To do that, the power lines coming down around
us, but we were lucky it went and the wind blew it away and we're still here.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Is that why you stayed up in Kinglake, because you can help out? Most people would
want to get off the mountain.

CHARLES EXTON: Nah, I'm staying. I lost everything, just go the clothes I stand in, but that
doesn't matter. We'll just keep moving and see what happens down the track.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Fire survivor Charles Exton speaking to The World Today's Michael Vincent.

Local MP calls for access to stimulus package

Reporter: Lyndal Curtis

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Fran Bailey is the Federal MP for the Victorian seat of McEwen which takes in
most of the areas hardest hit in the weekend fires.

She wants money the Government has set aside for a multibillion dollar economic stimulus package to
be spent rebuilding the devastated communities.

Fran Bailey spoke to chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis from an emergency centre this

LYNDAL CURTIS: Fran Bailey, a horrific weekend for Victoria, particularly the people in your
electorate. Have you really been able to comprehend the scale of this disaster yet?

FRAN BAILEY: Well look, as each hour goes by Lyndal, we learn more, we learn some happy stories
where we find families have survived, but we're also learning much more tragic stories. I just,
i've been at the Whittlesea emergency relief centre since very early this morning comforting a lot
of people. One father was still waiting to find out if his youngest child was alive. Others who've
got no idea whether family members and their neighbours are alive.

It really... the proportions of this tragedy are really only starting to be understood. The two
towns of Kinglake and Marysville in particular, well they no longer exist. Where you had
communities of homes and businesses and police stations, schools, churches - they simply don't
exist. And it is just very, very difficult to come to terms with the magnitude of the tragedy.

But you know, you talked to people and you talk to the survivors and they have the most incredible
spirit. The want to rebuild, they want to get back into the areas as soon as they can. But of
course it's not safe to get people back in yet.

LYNDAL CURTIS: What will it take to rebuild these communities? Will it need Federal Government
intervention, will it swamp the resources of the state?

FRAN BAILEY: Look, it certainly will. We have never had an emergency situation of this scale in our
country before. We're talking about having to rebuild whole towns; basic infrastructure, you know,
power, telecommunications, water, health, just restoring the utilities that enable there to be
public safety and hygiene.

And then talking about the actual, physical infrastructure of... this is going to be a mammoth,
mammoth effort. The $10-million that has been promised by both the Commonwealth and the State
Government is... look it's a good start but, but it's a drop in the ocean.

I think that the $42-billion fiscal rescue package, I think that should be reprioritised because
it's going to take funding of that order.

LYNDAL CURTIS: So some of that money, or quite a lot of that money, to go to areas in Victoria?

FRAN BAILEY: Well I think, you know, we've got to start with physical infrastructure and where
better to start in allowing Australian citizens to rebuild their lives, their families, their
communities and enable them to once again to be contributing citizens of our great country?

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The Federal MP for the Victorian seat of McEwen Fran Bailey, speaking to Lyndal
Curtis in Canberra.

Fire warning systems under review

Reporter: Barbara Miller

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Questions are now being asked about how it was possible that there appeared to be
so little warning of the approaching fires.

The Federal Government says early warning systems must be reviewed in light of the disaster.

The Attorney-General Robert McClelland says the fact that many people died while fleeing the fire
suggests safety messages have not been getting through.

But fire safety experts say those messages may up until now have been far too simple.

Barbara Miller reports.

BARBARA MILLER: It was fast, ferocious and arrived with little or no warning.

That's the story being told by many of those who survived the fires.

THOMAS LIBRERI: No matter how much preparation you could have prepared yourself for fires, you
couldn't have been prepared because there was just no warning.

BARBARA MILLER: Thomas Libreri from Kinglake says he had no time to implement his fire plan.

THOMAS LIBRERI: No word of lie, we probably had one minute to prepare. I'm a local builder and I
had generators, fire fighting pumps, I didn't even have the chance to engage the fight then. If my
paddocks were on fire we probably didn't have a chance to (inaudible).

BARBARA MILLER: The Attorney-General Robert McClelland says fire safety practices must now be

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: Many, many of those that causalities occurred by people fleeing, fleeing too
late. Now, we can't be judgemental about that decision but we need to get I think the correct
message and the correct message in early and I think we really do need to look at our early warning
systems. Whether those early warning systems are adequate and whether they can be enhanced on a
national basis.

BARBARA MILLER: Robert McClelland told ABC News Breakfast that one possibility would be to set up a
telephone warning system.

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: A lot of work has been happening over the last 12 months to look at how we can
do that and in fact Victoria had been one of the states leading in developing an early warning
system but there are complications of creating a system that doesn't itself overstretch the
telephone communication system.

BARBARA MILLER: But some fire safety experts say the problem is not the early warning system.

Dr Kevin Tolhurst is a senior lecturer in fire ecology and management at the University of

KEVIN TOLHURST: The warnings have certainly been out there. The Premier, the fire chiefs, they've
all been giving warnings that this is likely to happen. It's, we as part of a general public really
need to be, take it one board in a much more real way.

BARBARA MILLER: But you have people in the fire affected areas saying that they were prepared, that
they did have a fire plan, but they simply didn't have time to implement it.

KEVIN TOLHURST: Well I think we don't have any way of really assessing at the moment how effective
some of those fire plans have been because they're, it's important to have your plan but it
certainly needs to be evaluated by someone with I guess knowledge. So we need toperhaps improve how
we help people do that, I know there are consultants who actually do some of that work, but that's
a very small proportion of the population that would use those sort of services.

But the agencies could probably do a lot more to basically do a door knock on a regular basis
throughout the year assisting people in evaluating their plan and their preparedness works around
their homes.

BARBARA MILLER: Do you think a lot of people thought they were prepared but weren't?

KEVIN TOLHURST: Yeah, I think that's the case. I think a lot of people sort of thought, well
they've got their sprinkler system or they've cleared up the leaves out of the gutters or they've
done certain things, but it's probably inadequate for the environment that they were actually in.

So, I think we've got an issue here that we're saying be prepared, but then we're not really
following through in being able to advise people that yes, what you considered to be prepared will
be adequate under these sort of circumstances or they will be likely to fail if the weather
conditions or the fire conditions exceed some particular threshold.

BARBARA MILLER: Do you think the message is being given out at the moment of how to prepare are
perhaps too simple?

KEVIN TOLHURST: I think it is. We need to not simplify the situation as much as we've done in the
past and be a bit more realistic about the full dynamics and complexity of fires that people face.

BARBARA MILLER: The Victorian Premier John Brumby has also said fire safety messages may now be out
of date.

Mr Brumby said the policy of telling people to leave early or make sure they had a fire plan had
served the country well for 20 years or so.

But he said there is no question that there were people there who did everything right but whose
homes were just incinerated.


Fires more commonplace in the future

Reporter: Simon Santow

BRENDAN TREMBATH: One of Australia's leading climate scientists is predicting even more
catastrophic bushfires in the future.

Kevin Hennessy is a principal research scientist at the CSIRO's Marine and Atmospheric Research

He's told our reporter Simon Santow, that rising greenhouse gas emissions are pushing up
temperatures which, in turn, is leading to hotter and more intense fires.

KEVIN HENNESSY: The conditions on Saturday and Sunday in Victoria were exceptional. The weather
system that was responsible for it was not that different to those that might have occurred to in
the past but the thing that was different was that it was extremely dry, after 12 years of below
average rainfalls, and there was extreme heat coming from the interior of the continent.

Now whether climate change is responsible for an individual weather event if very difficult to
determine. What we do as climate scientists is look at trends in climate over many decades and what
is clear from that is that there has been a warming trend since 1950 and most of that warming trend
is very likely due to increases in greenhouse gases. So in terms of the trend, there does seem to
be human fingerprint.

SIMON SANTOW: And do you think that has implications for perhaps rewriting the rule book on how to
handle these fires and what to do in order to survive them?

KEVIN HENNESSY: Well it's always going to be difficult to manage a firestorm like that which
occurred in parts of Victoria on the weekend. Some of these fires were as tall as buildings and
spotting up to 40 kilometres ahead of the fire front. So that's always going to be difficult but in
future, unfortunately, we see that some continued increases in greenhouse gases will lead to
further warming and drier conditions in southern Australia. So the risks are likely to get worse.

SIMON SANTOW: But if we have a set of rules that are in place at the moment which are based on fire
behaviour over many, many years, if fire behaviour is going to change, do we need to relook at some
of those rules?

KEVIN HENNESSY: Well there's scope for looking at changes in fire behaviour and there's quite a bit
of research looking into that in the bushfire cooperative research centre. Now whether there are
radical changes to the fire behaviour in the future or whether we just get more of the extreme
fires that we've seen in the past - that remains to be seen.

I think a lot of the management strategies that are currently in place and very, very good and in
fact if you look back to the fires of 1939 or 1983 we've handled this rather well, given that the
unfortunate thing is that this is perhaps a worse climatic situation. So I take my hat off to the
people who have been working out there trying to reduce the risk and to the fire plans that all of
the individuals had. It's just that in such an extreme situation, it was very difficult for some
people to escape.

SIMON SANTOW: When we talk about an extreme situation, do you look at events like, situations where
farmers say, "Look, we've burnt, we've done the back-burning, here are these paddocks, we've built
what we think is a firebreak yet it can't contain the fire"?

KEVIN HENNESSY: As I said, there are very many management plans that have been put in place. Both
during the periods of the fire and in the season prior to it in order to back burn and to control
burning to reduce the risk.

It's just that in some situations, you have these fire storms and they're very, very difficult to

SIMON SANTOW: Why do you think they are so difficult? What is the combination of things that makes
it so hard for firefighters to actually keep it checked?

KEVIN HENNESSY: Just from a climate scientist point of view, it must be difficult dealing with, at
least in the Victorian situation, the last week of January having three days in a row over 43
degrees celsius, which really primed the state for a continuation for a very high fire risk, and
then of course over the weeks we got very hot winds from the interior of Australia, again exceeding
46 degrees celcius in some places, plus the very long period of, over a decade, of very dry
conditions, and really it was just a tinderbox waiting to go.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Climate scientist Kevin Hennessy speaking there to reporter Simon Santow.

Big business and government move to provide economic assistance

Reporter: Sue Lannin

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The human cost from Victoria's bushfires is immediately apparent but the economic
cost will take longer to determine.

Insurers say it's too early to tell. As the damage is assessed, businesses including Telstra and
the ANZ Bank are offering assistance.

The Federal Government has set up a $10-million relief fund, with cash payments being handed out by
Centrelink until August.

Finance reporter Sue Lannin spoke to Centrelink general manager Hank Jongen.

HANK JONGEN: The key assistance is the Australian Government's disaster recovery payment. it
includes payments of $1,000 for each adult and $400 for each child who's been adversely effected by
the fires.

SUE LANNIN: So what sort of things will that cover?

HANK JONGEN: Look, the recovery payment will be paid to those that are seriously injured and
hospitalised, as well as those who've lost their homes or who's principal place of residence has
been destroyed or seriously damaged as a direct result of the bushfires.

In addition to that, the Australian Government will also provide through Centrelink funeral
assistance of up to $5,000 for the immediate family of the person who has lost their life as a
direct result of the fires.

SUE LANNIN: And how are you going to decide who is eligible?

HANK JONGEN: Well there are a set of criteria that we work to and that's normal business for us in
these situations. What we encourage people to do is to talk it out to our staff, particularly those
who are at relief centres that have been set up, but on top of that there's information on our
website, there are forms that you can download if you're staying with friends or relatives. You can
visit any one of the Centrelink offices, but obviously the clear focus is that we're deploying
staff to those relief centres that have been set up.

SUE LANNIN: So is this assistance going to be means tested?

HANK JONGEN: In fact it's not subject to an assets test. What we find is that the best thing is for
people to talk to us one on one about their individual circumstances. We have over 200 staff that
are being deployed to these relief centres; we'll talk to the individuals, we'll talk them through
the processes.

The arrangements we have for payments are very flexible. In some situations we'll be giving a small
advance in cash and the balance will then be paid into bank accounts over night. We also have
facilities where we can provide electronic bank transfer cards where there are banks operating.

The situation will really vary depending on which community and how remote those communities are.

SUE LANNIN: What about people though who have lost documents, lost their driver's licence, lost
records - how are you going to deal with them?

HANK JONGEN: Well in all of those situations we'll work with individuals to help them confirm their

SUE LANNIN: Some people have never dealt with Centrelink before are you going to take a
compassionate approach?

HANK JONGEN: I think it's important to make this point: Centrelink is well attuned to providing
support during these sorts of terrible emergencies. We already have in place arrangements in
northern Queensland now for the past week.

We've provided assistance with bushfires in the past. At each of the relief centres we'll have at
least one social worker or councillor and a minimum of four staff to provide support and advice to
individuals that need help.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Centrelink general manager Hank Jongen speaking to finance reporter Sue Lannin.