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19.9.05

Stay Home During A Fire

Civil Liberties Group Urges Choice On Bushfire Evacuations

Civil Liberties Australia wants the ACT Government to change the law to give residents the right to remain in their homes in the event of a bushfire.

... Spokesman Anthony Williamson says the law is out of step with the advice of firefighting authorities, and goes against the recommendations of the McLeod report into the 2003 Canberra firestorm.

... "When it comes to a choice between saving a house and saving a life, it's a very easy choice for me," he [Police Minister John Hargreaves] said.


First, I should point out that CLA is right about the potential for residents to save their own homes, based on the state-of-the-art wildfire research. Most homes destroyed in a wildfire are not burned down by the main wall of fire, which is typically moving too quickly to ignite home materials. The real danger is small sparks and airborne bits of flammable material, which lodge in eaves and other nooks of a home. Over time, these small ignition sources set the rest of the house alight. But were there a person in the home, they could be swatted out while they're still small. Of course, this all depends on good preparation by homeowners -- things like clearing defensible space to ensure that the home will in fact survive the initial fire front, and knowing how to locate and extinguish sparks.

Hargreaves' rebuttal is a strange one. I could understand if he emphasized the importance of public order in the fire area, or if he was simply skeptical of homeowners' ability to save themselves and their homes. But the purported tradeoff between saving a home and saving a person seems unlikely -- it's hard to imagine a situation where staying behind would result in a death but save the house. The choice is between saving only the person, or a chance of saving either both or neither.

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