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Fire authorities warn next danger season only -

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Fire authorities warn next danger season only weeks away

The World Today - Friday, 19 June , 2009 12:41:00

Reporter: Jennifer Macey

PETER CAVE: Authorities in south-east Australia are already preparing for the next fire season
which they say is only 10 weeks away.

The peak body for the fire and emergency service organisations made the warning at an International
Wildfire Management Conference held in Sydney this morning.

Fire services from around the world are meeting to share expertise and draw lessons from the
Victorian Bush Fires which killed 173 people.

Naomi Brown, the CEO of the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council told
Jennifer Macey they still don't know what went wrong on that day.

NAOMI BROWN: In terms of the ferocity, we know a lot about the conditions and the heat and so on.

What I was saying earlier is that we still don't have a total understanding of what happened on
that day - who was doing what; how people actually died; what the houses did; which houses
survived. Keeping in mind that many thousands of people survived this and their houses survived
too.

We are still collecting a lot of evidence too to understanding actually what did happen on that
day. I mean obviously we know that the basics and the fundamentals but there is a lot of analysis
to go on yet.

JENNIFER MACEY: One of the big things that are coming out of the Royal Commission into the
Victorian bush fires is, as you said, the stay and defend or leave early policy. That message
didn't seem to get through at the Victorian bush fires and at the Royal Commission someone from the
Californian fire chiefs were saying people should just evacuate.

NAOMI BROWN: In order to evacuate it takes a lot of preparation beforehand. People have to part to
be part of the public policy which it's not in Australia at this point.

Evacuation also requires enough time for people to evacuate. That's really the biggest issue. When
there is really a big sudden fire, the time to evacuate is extremely limited and extremely
dangerous.

So if we can get better at giving people triggers of when to leave early, which we will work very
hard on doing, then people evacuating themselves is the safest thing to do as long as it's early
enough.

But I don't think we'll ever be at the point of forcing thousands of people to evacuate. I don't
think that our road systems or our culture is at that point.

JENNIFER MACEY: A lot of people have said that they survived in a bunker but no authority actually
authorises that as a strategy. Is that again something that needs to be looked at?

NAOMI BROWN: Yes. Our concern right now is that there are no standards for bunkers.

There is also some concern that it it's seen as an option to have a bunker so rather than prepare
your house, and there are some issues with that. But we would say yes, bunkers, refuges, all of
those things do need some pretty serious consideration.

JENNIFER MACEY: What about the issue of people who live in the bush? Do they need to take more
responsibility that they are living in a potentially dangerous fire zone?

NAOMI BROWN: Yes, look I think people who are living in any risk area, in fact whether it's flood
or whether it's fire, really do need to understand what those risks are. And we would say it's a
shared responsibility that the fire and emergency services can do sort of so much but there will
never be enough resources for say a fire truck at everybody's house. So actually understanding what
that risk is and making some preparations is really vital to survivability.

JENNIFER MACEY: So you are already preparing for the next fire season?

NAOMI BROWN: Oh, have been for some time, yes. Fire seasons are in Australia the whole year round.

So people in the north of Australia are in or very near a fire season now. For the south of
Australia it's really only a matter of 10, 12 weeks away.

So for those people who are living in bushfire prone areas, I'd strongly urge people to really have
a look at where they live and if they haven't got the information certainly go to any of their fire
services and get some help.

PETER CAVE: That was Naomi Brown the CEO of the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities
Council speaking to Jennifer Macey.