19 Nov 2009, 12:33am
Federal forest policy The 2009 Fire Season
by admin

Pre-Fire Evacuations in Australia

Australian authorities have prompted evacuation of residents in some some parts of south Australia because of an impending heat wave (see below).

Australia was the first country to officially adopt “Leave Early or Stay and Defend”, a fire policy that calls for homeowners to evacuate or else defend their own properties from wildfires. The Aussies have now abandoned the second part and applied the first part with vigor, since there are no fires at present.

Last December the US Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and the National Association of State Foresters endorsed “Leave Early or Stay and Defend” in their Quadrennial Fire Review 2009 issued last January [here].

The QFR advances new core strategies for reinforcing fire management’s role in ecosystem sustainability by developing strategic management response capabilities that are more flexible and agile and further in line with the national response framework. While continuing to promote the concept of fire-adapted human communities, the QFR outlines new strategies to realign fire governance by rethinking federal, tribal, and state and local roles and responsibilities for wildland urban interface fire prevention and protection. Tied to this mission strategy of building a new national intergovernmental wildfire policy framework, are specific strategy elements for developing community fuels reduction zones in the interface, supporting leave-early or stay-and-defend alternatives for property owners while working with communities to assure that community fire prevention regulations are in place along with adequate local response capability.

The “Leave Early or Stay and Defend” fire policy did not work out well for Australia. Last February wildfires ravaged the state of Victoria in southeastern Australia. Close to 200 people were killed and more than 2,000 homes incinerated. Termed “Black Saturday”, it was the worst fire disaster in Australian history, a history replete with fire disasters.

A Royal Commission was formed to inquire, consult, and report on the fires and the fire suppression efforts associated with “an unprecedented loss of life, extreme property damage, and major community trauma and displacement.” That Commission issued an interim report last August [here].

The “Leave Early or Stay and Defend” fire policy was excoriated in testimony to the Royal Commission and blamed for the deaths, along with insufficient fuels management due to interference and lawsuits by Australian “greens”.

The impending heat wave with winds bodes some nasty fire weather for Australia, should a fire ignite. Authorities have called for a pre-fire evacuation, something unprecedented. There are no fires, but residents are being asked to leave anyway. The “Stay and Defend” part of the equation has been scotched.

Australia issues ‘catastrophic’ fire warning

CNN, November 18, 2009 [here]

(CNN) — Authorities are asking residents in some some parts of south Australia to evacuate their homes as an impending heat wave prompted the nation to issue its first “catastrophic” brush fire warning.

The warning system was put in place to better alert residents after a devastating brush fire ravaged the southeastern state of Victoria in February, killing more than 170 people and destroying 2,000 homes.

During that fire, many residents stayed to defend their property.

Though authorities still cannot mandate that people leave, the new warning system urges people to flee.

The Code Red “Catastrophic” warning was issued for the Eastern Eyre Peninsula and West Coast districts in the state of South Australia.

Such a rating means that even well-constructed and defended homes might not be safe from the blaze, the South Australian Fire Service said.

In addition, three other districts — Flinders, North West Pastoral and Lower Eyre Peninsula — were placed under an “Extreme” watch. Such a rating means that only well-constructed homes can withstand the flames.

An intense heat wave — with temperatures climbing to 104 F (40 C) — is expected to hit the areas until the weekend. The region is already in the midst of a severe drought. Coupled with low humidity and strong winds, the soaring temperatures will make it ripe for fires to ignite.

Any fire that breaks out will be uncontrollable, the fire service said. People in their path will likely die, it added.

Australia issues its first ever “catastrophic” wildfire evacuation warning

by Siyabonga Ntshingila, Richmark Sentinel, November 17, 2009 [here]

Australian officials issued their first ever “catastrophic” wildfire evacuation warning Tuesday in the wake of an unprecedented heatwave over the country’s southern regions.

The heatwave has reportedly left acres of bushland tinder dry and ripe for the rise of bushfires on a massive scale and has triggered the Code Red warning.

Temperatures in South Australia are expected to top 40deg Celsius. “In the next couple of days we are going to see high temperatures, very low humidity and very strong winds,” said fire service chief Euan Ferguson.

“This is the first real test for the summer.”

Residents are being urged to evacuate their homes and get to safety “well before a fire starts”. This warning comes after the country was chastened by the loss of 173 lives and 2,000 homes in February’s Black Saturday firestorm and issues a more explicit warning than the existing, and widely lambasted “stay or go” policy.

While residents cannot be forcibly evacuated they are strongly advised to leave their property on a Code Red day, which signifies a high risk of death or injury and destruction.

South Australia sweltered through a record-breaking eight days of extreme temperatures last week, leaving bushland and pastoral areas tinder-dry and vulnerable to fast-moving and uncontrollable flames.

It was the state’s first-ever November heatwave, and Ferguson said he had never seen so much combustible material so early in the southern hemisphere summer.

Imagine evacuating the Los Angeles Basin whenever it gets over 100 F and the winds pick up. Imagine LA residents defending their own homes from wildfires with no assistance from city, county, state, or federal firefighters.

Or anywhere else in this country. Our Federal land management agencies have endorsed a fire policy that has failed catastrophically in Australia, a policy that country has abandoned with prejudice based on past experience.

Infatuation with wildfire is killing our forests and endangering our communities. We should follow Australia’s lead and correct our currently misguided Federal fire policies before massive tragedy strikes again.



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