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Black Friday anniversary renews importance of ongoing bushfire research

AUSTRALIA’S PEAK fire management and research organizations are calling for ongoing support for scientific research to deal with the bushfires.
The 70th anniversary of Black Friday, Victoria’s highest fatality bushfire was a timely reminder of our capacity as a society to deal with fire. Black Friday and later events such as Ash Wednesday in 1983, the alpine fires of 2003 and 2006/7, and the Eyre Peninsula fires of 2005, reinforced the critical needs that were identified in 1939.
Better resourcing, technology, community understanding, communications, acceptance of fire as a natural occurrence and the sharing of risk between property owners and fire agencies are just some of the lessons still being learned through experience and rigorous scientific research.
Australia’s Chief Fire Officers now believe that our current knowledge and practices on bushfire management will not meet the expected needs of the community in coming decades.
Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre (Bushfire CRC) chief executive officer Gary Morgan said scientific research into bushfires must continue in order to improve our understanding of the multiple impacts of bushfires.
“Climate change and drought are altering the nature, ferocity and duration of bushfires and an ageing and declining volunteer population are challenging the way fire agencies are going to be able to manage these events.
“These issues are being further compounded by the expanding rural-urban fringe and the desire for people to retire to these semi-rural or rural areas. These demographic changes mean there will be increasing numbers of people living in these higher risk zones that are less capable of dealing with the fire risk,” Morgan said.
The Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC), the Bushfire CRC and each individual Australian fire agency, are working to establish a new Cooperative Research Centre for fire in Australia. The Bushfire CRC was funded for a seven year term by the Australian Government, which ends in 2010.
“Australians are very innovative at addressing challenges. Through research we have provided Australians with ways to improve community safety. However, just as the Bushfire CRC has helped fire agencies today, new research is vital to provide innovative ways to tackle bushfires in the future,” Morgan said.
Naomi Brown, AFAC chief executive officer, believes Australia is in for some very challenging times.