Australia: These bushfires are a historic event. Here is what we should learn from them

Source(s)
Guardian, the (UK)

By Cormac Farrell, Environmental Scientist

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We fight fires with data as much as water these days. Apps and social media are now an essential part of warning communities and coordinating evacuations. While this is an amazing capability that simply did not exist at the time of the Canberra and Victorian fires, it was clear from tweets by fire protection experts, such as Bianca Nogrady in the Blue Mountains, that our telecommunications system was being pushed to its absolute limit as people tried desperately to keep on top of where the fires were.

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The data-hungry nature of modern bushfire management isn’t just in the emergency operations space. Following Black Saturday, I was part of a team that used state-of-the-art fire prediction models to design bushfire shelters for Victorian public schools, as well as enhanced ember prediction models for the design of new suburbs in Canberra.

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Previous disasters have taught us lessons around designing houses for bushfire that have served us well in the current situation, but I predict that coming out of this current fire emergency we will see another review of building standards in bushfire zones, as well as an increased focus on adapting Indigenous burning prescriptions to create a more open, park-like vegetation structure near our suburban edges.

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Despite this, agencies met or exceeded their hazard reduction targets this year, which highlights how overwhelming the fire weather extremes have been – in a lot of areas the fuel reduction simply didn’t work. As has been reported several times there have been significant losses during the current fires even in areas where hazard reduction burns had been carried out. The structure of these forests still allowed damaging crown fires to develop, even where the low-level fuels had been reduced.

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