fixing australia human rights sustainable earth sustainable shelter terror australis association member log in
Project SafeCom News and Updates
name:
email:
   
Google
wwwthis site
Be part of the Action image
Twitter
Facebook

Alert a friend button

share widget button
   
Victoria under fire: a state fights, a nation grieves
Victoria under fire: "...something is going on: as we battle blazes here in Victoria, firefighters are busy rescuing people from floods in Queensland. Without a massive turnaround in policies, aside from the tragic loss of life and property, we will be asking firefighters to put themselves at an unacceptable risk..."

Black Saturday 2009: After the Fires

Victoria under fire: a State fights while a nation grieves

"It's possible some people may feel upset by the link being made in the media here and overseas between bushfires and climate change."

"I understand that people are shocked with grief. But there are many things we can and must learn from this tragedy, and one of them is this: The climate has changed."

"Our 5 per cent by 2020 carbon pollution reduction target is no longer politically viable. We are facing a climate emergency and [are] running out of time."

Anna Rose

Despite narrowly missing the 1983 Victorian fires and then losing a house to the 1994 Sydney bushfires, I had not appreciated the difference a degree or two of extra heat and a dry soil can make to the ferocity of a fire. This fire was different from anything seen before.

When he ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, described climate change as the greatest threat facing humanity. Shaken, and clearly having seen things none of us should see, he has now witnessed proof of his words. We can only hope Australia's climate policy, which is weak, is now significantly strengthened.

Tim Flannery

What's on this page

This page brings together some published contributions to the notion that the devastating February 2009 fires in Victoria were not just fierce fires, but that this was a 'significant climate change event'.

There's an article by Anna Rose, who founded the Australian Youth Climate Coalition in 2006, and who also writes for Its Getting Hot In Here; then former Australian Of the Year Tim Flannery reflects on the fires, followed by a report by The Oz' Asa Wahlquist on the carbon release setbacks as a result of the fires.

Following The Australian's reportage, Liz Conor of Melbourne Uni writes about the harrowing escape of her sister, climate change author Clive Hamilton predicts Canberra's silence to link the fires with climate change, while the page finishes with a report about the open letter to the Victorian Premier John Brumby and to Kevin Rudd by United Firefighters Union of Australia national secretary Peter Marshall - his letter has also been reproduced here.

Research by the CSIRO, Climate Institute and the Bushfire Council found that a "low global warming scenario" will see catastrophic fire events happen in parts of regional Victoria every 5-7 years by 2020, and every 3-4 years by 2050, with up to 50% more extreme danger fire days. However, under a "high global warming scenario", catastrophic events are predicted to occur every year...

...something is going on: as we battle blazes here in Victoria, firefighters are busy rescuing people from floods in Queensland. Without a massive turnaround in policies, aside from the tragic loss of life and property, we will be asking firefighters to put themselves at an unacceptable risk...

Firies' Union (UFUA) chief Peter Marshall

Anna Rose: A Changed Climate

New Matilda
16 February 2009
By Anna Rose

More devastating fires are just one of the things we know will come with runaway climate change. Now is the time to turn our horror into action, writes Anna Rose.

It's hard to know what to write. Every time I think about it, tears well up and I can't see the screen properly. These fires have affected our nation at its very core, in a way I hadn't seen before.

Yet in a sense, I should have been prepared for this. How many talks have I given over the past five years about scientists' predictions of the "more frequent extreme weather events like bushfires, floods, droughts and hurricanes" that climate change will bring? Perhaps it had become a throwaway line. Just one of the many items you must include on the long list when someone asks you the question, "what will the impact of climate change be on Australia within our lifetimes?"

The human face of climate change impacts became real last weekend. Scientists have told us for a long time that climate change will increase the likelihood of events like these bushfires. In 2007, CSIRO research revealed that higher levels of global warming expose us to the risk of an exponential increase in fire weather - that warming above of between just 0.4 and 1.0 degree by 2020 (the IPCC's low-range scenario) will see an alarming increase in days classified as Very High and Extreme fire danger days.

By 2050, high global warming scenarios indicate a jump of between 20-100 per cent in the frequency of "very extreme" fire weather across much of southern and eastern Australia, and the expected frequency of "catastrophic-range" fire weather conditions near Melbourne (for example) will rise from once every 33 years at present to every 2.4 years.

No-one can say for sure right now how much less devastating these recent fires would have been if the climate were not changing, but at the very least, this is a glimpse into the window of the future of a warming planet. First the heat-wave, then the floods and now the firestorms.

After the images of Hurricane Katrina were beamed across the globe, millions of people realised that the effects of climate change are not abstract. Climate change is not, at its core, about ice sheets melting in the Arctic, or extinctions and mass loss of biodiversity somewhere far away. It's not about polar bears, or politics. Climate change is about survival - of all people, all species, and all nations.

In Victoria, whole towns have gone. Whole communities and their histories. Climate change doesn't just affect animals or humans on an individual level - it attacks the heart and the identity of our nation and affects us all.

What gives me hope in the face of such devastation is the way our country has rallied together to mourn, and also to help the survivors. Already tens of millions of dollars have been donated to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund. If we can unite around this crisis, it gives me hope that we can do the same around climate change.

The past week has shown the strength, courage and determination of the survivors, fire fighters and all those who have helped. When we are under threat, we join together to take action. We must treat reducing emissions to solve climate change with the same determination, strength and courage. This applies to our political leaders, too. The fact that politicians from all parties have for a few days left behind the political bickering and reacted with genuine emotion, compassion and empathy, shows their humanity - our humanity. Fundamentally, our politicians have more in common than they do differences.

It is during these raw and rare moments, when politicians can ignore the 24-hour news cycle and express their solidarity with the victims of the fires that I think: we all share a common interest in doing our best to make sure an event like this never happens again. And maybe they will realise that here is something that they have the power to do - and no longer have any excuse to avoid.

Just like you can't negotiate with a bushfire, you can't negotiate with climate science. The science says the world needs to do much more, or we will see increased extreme weather events like the ones we have just experienced. Taking a risk on runaway climate change is too great a risk for our country, which is one of the most vulnerable in the world to more frequent extreme weather events.

The latest science tells us that the end-game that the world must aim for is to stabilise greenhouse gasses at 350 CO2e or below. This is our best chance of preventing our planet spiralling into out-of-control climate change, the future effects of which we are now as a nation beginning to comprehend.

It's possible some people may feel upset by the link being made in the media here and overseas between bushfires and climate change. I understand that people are shocked with grief. But there are many things we can and must learn from this tragedy, and one of them is this: The climate has changed. Our 5 per cent by 2020 carbon pollution reduction target is no longer politically viable. We are facing a climate emergency and running out of time.

http://newmatilda.com/2009/02/16/changed-climate

Tim Flannery: Deadly reminder that we must tackle climate change

Sydney Morning Herald
Tim Flannery
February 12, 2009

The day after the great fire burnt through central Victoria, I drove from Sydney to Melbourne. Smoke obscured the horizon, entering my air-conditioned car and carrying with it that distinctive scent so strongly signifying death, or, to Aboriginal people, cleansing.

It was as if a great cremation had taken place. I didn't know then how many people had died in their cars and homes, or while fleeing, but by the time I reached the scorched ground just north of Melbourne, the dreadful news was trickling in. And the trauma will be with us forever.

I was born in Victoria, and over five decades I've watched as the state has changed. The long, wet and cold winters that seemed insufferable to me as a boy vanished decades ago, and for the past 12 years a new, drier climate has established itself. I could measure its progress whenever I flew in to Melbourne. Over the years the farm dams filled less frequently while the suburbs crept further into the countryside, their swimming pools oblivious to the great drying.

Climate modelling suggests the decline of southern Australia's winter rainfall is caused by a build-up of greenhouse gas, much of it from coal burning. Victoria has the most polluting coal power plant on earth, and another plant was threatened by the fire.

There's evidence that global pollution caused a significant change in climate after the El Nino of 1998. Along with the dwindling rainfall has come a desiccation of the soil, and more extreme summer temperatures.

This February, at the zenith of a record-breaking heatwave, Melbourne recorded its hottest day ever - a suffocating 46.1 degrees, with even higher temperatures in rural Victoria.

This extreme coincided with exceptionally strong northerly winds, followed by an abrupt change to southerly. This brought a cooling, but it was the shift in wind direction that caught so many in a deadly trap. Such conditions have occurred before. In 1939 and 1983 they led to dangerous fires. But this time the conditions were more extreme, and the 12-year "drought" meant plant tissues were bone dry.

Despite narrowly missing the 1983 Victorian fires and then losing a house to the 1994 Sydney bushfires, I had not appreciated the difference a degree or two of extra heat and a dry soil can make to the ferocity of a fire. This fire was different from anything seen before.

Australia is in shock at the loss of so many lives. But inevitably we will look for lessons. The first, I fear, is that we must anticipate more such terrible blazes, for the world's addiction to burning fossil fuels goes on unabated. And there is now no doubt that emissions pollution is laying the conditions necessary for more such fires.

When he ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, described climate change as the greatest threat facing humanity. Shaken, and clearly having seen things none of us should see, he has now witnessed proof of his words. We can only hope Australia's climate policy, which is weak, is now significantly strengthened.

Rudd has said the arsonists suspected of lighting some fires are guilty of mass murder, and the police are pursuing the malefactors. But there's an old saying among Australian firefighters: "Whoever owns the fuel owns the fire".

Let's hope Australians ponder the deeper causes of this horrible event, and change their polluting ways before it's too late.

Tim Flannery is a scientist at Macquarie University and author of The Weather Makers: The History And Future Impact Of Climate Change. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in The Guardian.

http://www.smh.com.au/.../...reminder-that-we-must-tackle-climate-change-20090211-84mn.html

Bushfires release huge carbon load

Asa Wahlquist, Rural writer
February 13, 2009
The Australian

Victoria's bushfires have released a massive amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere - almost equal to Australia's industrial emission for an entire year.

Mark Adams, from the University of Sydney, said the emissions from bushfires were far beyond what could be contained through carbon capture and needed to be addressed in the next international agreement.

"Once you are starting to burn millions of hectares of eucalypt forest, then you are putting into the atmosphere very large amounts of carbon," Professor Adams said.

In work for the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre, he estimated the 2003 and 2006-07 bushfires could have put 20-30million tonnes of carbon (70-105 million tonnes of carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere.

"That is far, far more than we're ever going to be able to sequester from planting trees or promoting carbon capture," he said.

The 2003 and 2006-07 bushfires were burning land carrying 50 to 80 tonnes of carbon per hectare. "This time we are burning forests that are even more carbon-dense than last time, well over 100 tonnes above-ground carbon per hectare," he said.

Professor Adams said it was vital that more research was done into bushfires and carbon. "Not all of what is in the vegetation goes up, but you also lose much of the carbon in the litter and understorey and also some of the soil carbon," he said.

Carbon emissions from forest fires are not counted under the Kyoto Protocol. But he said he thought it likely they would be in future agreements.

"All informed scientific opinion suggests that whatever new protocol is signed (at the UN summit) in Copenhagen or elsewhere will include forest carbon, simply because to not do so would be to ignore one of the biggest threats to the global atmospheric pool of carbon dioxide, the release of carbon in fires."

Professor Adams said the counter argument had always been that new forests took up the carbon lost to the fire. "That is true to a point, but if the long-term fire regime changes -- we are now starting to have more fires -- we may completely change the carbon balance of the forest."

Carbon could also be sequestered in the soil as charcoal, and he said recent research had found most Australian soil carbon was actually charcoal.

"That really does change the way we think about soil carbon. We should be investigating the effects on fires in converting biomass into charcoal.

"One of the big unknowns is how fires interact with biomass carbon to produce charcoal and ash, and how long that charcoal and ash lives in the soil."

He argued it was more important to investigate bushfires and the carbon cycle than it was to study carbon capture from coal-fired power stations.

"I think we are ignoring critical areas of research in favour of a technological solution. In this case, we need to better understand the natural cycles."

Scientists had recorded steep increases in global carbon dioxide emissions as a result of bushfires in Indonesia and Siberia, he said.

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25047322-5013404,00.html

The bushfires, the pain, the climate change

Crikey
Monday, 23 February 2009

University of Melbourne research fellow Liz Conor writes:

On the hottest day on record in Victorian history my sister's home in St Andrews, 45 minutes north of Melbourne, burnt to the ground. While temperatures peaked at 48.8 degrees Celsius, ferocious winds battered a state that had baked to a tinder through two weeks of over 40 degree-days, and through a 13-year drought.

All day Angie and Drew had cut back and hosed off. At about 4pm they fought off four fire fronts. Burning balls of fire were tumbling through the air outside every window. As the house filled with smoke the kids were screaming under blankets on the floor where the terrified dog was sh-tting. They had followed to the letter a detailed fire plan, but Angela tells me "we had no intention to stay and defend, we were trapped, and there was no warning."

They scrambled down an embankment on to the road because it was the only thing around them not on fire. Grace fell and burnt her palm on hot coals. They went up the road under a blanket until the length of hose from their petrol pump ran out. Soon they saw through the smoke the flashing lights of the Angels masquerading as the Country Fire Authority. The firefighter told them they looked like ghosts materialising out of the smoke and most harrowing to them was that two of them were children. The CFA took hours to chainsaw them up the road to safety.

They lost their lovingly tended home and garden, a beloved old dog and their eccentric chooks, but they have their lives. "Chas the wonder dog" was found two days later on the only patch of green guarding the bag of photos Drew had pitched onto the lawn before they fled. But, as Angela tells me they have "lost the way our family lived". Their self-sufficient daily lives that gave them so much happiness is now "in chaos". Worse than that, within the weld of emotions including survivor guilt and bewilderment, Angela feels that she nearly caused the deaths of her own beautiful girls.

We picked them up from the Diamond Creek Emergency centre after midnight where people with ears full of soot huddled under the stiff dried blankets that had shielded them from ember attack. They were handed apocalyptic cards, which folded out through the phases: "Walking Wounded", "Priority One", "Priority Two", and "Dead". My 12 year-old niece unfolded hers to "Dead" next to me and looked up from under the ember burn on her eyelid and said with adolescent drollery, "Well, that's helpful".

Somehow Angela and their family escaped the unimaginable deaths that hundreds of Victorians suffered. But the ferocity of the inferno they perished within was unnatural. There is a class action being mounted against the Singapore power company whose pole came down in the wind spraying sparks. There is an arsonist refused bail for the fire that erased the township of Marysville. There is much recrimination directed to local councils about restrictions on back burning and fuel load. But how these conditions resulted in a firestorm, which exploded with the force of some 400 Hiroshimas, and incinerated as many as 300 Victorians in our worst Australian peacetime disaster points to another kind of arson.

We were warned. Over and over again scientists told us of the increased danger of bushfires fueled by severe, protracted drought and record-breaking heat waves. But over the last decade governments have either turned their backs or dragged their feet on the warnings of their own commissioned and credible reports on climate change -- including the increasingly dire warnings of the International Panel on Climate Change, which now says its 2007 report substantially underestimated the severity and rapidity of global warming.

Scientists have also warned against attributing a direct causal relation between global warming and the devastation of the Victorian bushfires. Indeed there are a number of factors at play, from arson to the privatization of amenities, to our repeated failure to heed the ecological cycle of fire-stick farming established by Aborigines over millennia.

But common sense dictates that climate change is undeniably a major factor. The morning of the fires Victorians were warned to stay indoors and not venture out into "our worst day in history" because of record-breaking temperatures fanned by high winds. Southeastern Australia had experienced a record-breaking heatwave over two weeks and the drought had primed fuel loads with combustible vegetation that no amount of back burning could possibly keep up with.

Yet the Australian government continues to subsidize our fossil fuel industries by 9 billion taxpayer dollars annually. They will offer to the emergency summit in Copenhagen next month a piddling 5 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020 from 2000 levels when Professor Ross Garnaut, in his interim report on climate change, had recommended a 25 pc reduction.

The solace of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's quite genuine words has felt empty. He has walked through the ashes and held the grieving and called the Marysville arsonist a "mass murderer". But he needs to heed the growing sense that that these fires were beyond our ability to fight because they were something altogether new. He needs to heed the fire ecologists and climatologists who are telling us these bushfires were not a once in a lifetime event.

Under a "low level global warming scenario" these firestorms may be experienced every four to five years in Victoria. The head of the Bureau of Meteorology's National Climate Centre has offered the chilling words, "We are in the build-up to the next El Nino and already the drought is as bad as it has ever been -- in terms of the drought, this may be as good as things get". In other words this drought is here to stay, meeting the CSIRO prediction that the pretty and lush garden state of Victoria will become desert within two decades.

Carl Sagan has said that 'the universe is neither benign nor hostile but merely indifferent to creatures such as us'. But we creatures are neither indifferent nor stupid. I am no scientist but I cannot help feeling that those who have failed to act on climate change imperiled my sister and her family's lives on 'Black Saturday' and put them through a literal hell.

My sister is now sick with fear for the danger our parents face in Cottlesbridge over the hill from what is now her "property" and for our sister and her children whose township of Beechworth was spared because of a wind change. Angie now feels "we will go through this again until the whole state is burnt". They are reluctant to apportion blame amongst so much sorrow.

But like many of the traumatised who have joined the dots on climate change and this tragedy, part of their healing will require assurances from those in power, all around the world, that they will provide climate security to all of us, whether it is from drowning coastlines, flood, loss of food production or fire.

That is, if it isn't already too late, as it is for hundreds of our fellow Victorians, who I know with an immediacy I have never felt before, were just people like us.

http://www.crikey.com.au/Politics/20090223-Bushfire.html

Bushfires: Don't mention the c word

Crikey
Monday, 9 February 2009

Clive Hamilton writes:

Climate scientists have been predicting more frequent and severe bushfires due to climate change for some years. A 2007 report for the Climate Institute by the Bushfire CRC concluded that we could expect a two to four-fold increase in the number of extreme fire danger days by 2050 under a high global warming scenario, the path we are now on. It identified northern Victoria, the site of the most deadly fires over the weekend, as one of the areas most prone to catastrophic fires.

The bushfires and the extreme heatwave, whose death toll when tallied will probably be in the hundreds and exceed that of the fires, are global warming made manifest in the daily lives of ordinary people. Over the last ten days we have seen the future. The question is: will we face up to it or pretend they are one-off events?

The climate change debate is usually carried out at a high level of abstraction, which makes it easier for ordinary people and political leaders to treat it as a vague and distant threat. The heatwave and the fires should turn abstraction into reality, just as 9/11 did for the threat of Islamic terrorism.

If we were rational beings the events of the last 10 days would cause a massive reassessment of our whole approach to climate change. Yet it is a safe bet that over the next days and weeks the link between the bushfires and global warming will be avoided and downplayed.

It is almost as if it is bad taste or callousness to raise the spectre of climate change at the time when the terrible forecasts become a reality. But by the time the coronial inquest eventually reports the words of the experts will have lost much of their force.

Certainly, the major political parties will not want to acknowledge the association between global warming and the fires because they will immediately be asked to explain why they are not doing more about it, why Australia will go to Copenhagen with a five per cent target when the scientists say it must be at least 25 per cent.

The Prime Minister has not hesitated to accuse the Opposition of harbouring climate change denialists. But there is more than one form of denialism, including pretending to take warming more seriously than you do and claiming that the science must be "balanced" against the claims of fossil fuel lobbyists.

In all likelihood his media advisers are today urging on him a third form: "Don't talk about the warming".

For weeks the political system has been consumed by the global financial crisis and bickering over how best to respond to it. Yet serious as the economic slowdown is, no one has died from it.

Clive Hamilton is the author of Scorcher: The dirty politics of climate change (Black Inc.)

http://www.crikey.com.au/Politics/20090209-Dont-talk-about-the-warming-.html

'At risk' firies want urgent global warming action

ABC News Online
By ABC News Online's Cassie White
Posted Thu Feb 12, 2009 3:46pm AEDT
Updated Thu Feb 12, 2009 4:48pm AEDT

Australia is at risk of more tragedies such as the Victorian bushfires if the Federal Government does not reassess its approach to global warming, says the peak firefighters union.

United Firefighters Union of Australia national secretary Peter Marshall has written an open letter to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Victorian Premier John Brumby, on behalf of Australia's 13,000 firefighters.

He says the Government's own CSIRO report shows that under a high global warming scenario "catastrophic events are predicted to occur every year in Mildura and firefighters have been warned to expect up to a 230 per cent increase in extreme danger fire days in Bendigo" alone.

It also shows that in Canberra, where there were horrendous fires in 2003, fire services were being told to prepare for a 221 per cent rise in extreme fire days by 2050.

Mr Marshall says the Victorian fires are happening in the backdrop of the Federal Government global warming report that was released in 2007.

"These fires aren't happening by accidents ... it's highly likely we'll have similar events in other states and territories around Australia in 2010," he said.

"[The Government's own research shows] by 2020 it's going to be a regular occurrence. All the current thinking and science behind protecting communities has not built in the factor of this increase.

With one end of the country drowning in floodwaters and the other end being devastated by fires, the letter urges the Government to follow scientific advice and halve Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

"Without a massive turnaround in policies, aside from the tragic loss of life and property, we will be asking firefighters to put themselves at an unacceptable risk," says the letter.

Tinderbox conditions

Despite widely-held suspicion many of the fires were started by arsonists, Mr Marshall says it is the current climate conditions which allowed them to spread in the first place.

"Those types of fires are going to evolve irrespective of whatever the ignition source is - whether it be criminal or lightning strike," he said.

"What used to be a fire that could have been contained to a small area, we're going to see evolve into a wildfire like we've seen in Victoria and that's going to be a regular occurrence."

He says there needs to be an open and accountable discussion on a national level to ensure this kind of tragedy is never repeated.

"The Federal Government should take leadership in this matter ... It's a national problem and there has to be a national approach," he said.

"We're asking the Prime Minister and the Premier to consider our letter. At the end of the day it's the community that matters most here.

"An unprecedented number of lives have been lost in Victoria and we don't want it to happen again. If the Government doesn't take notice of our letter, the public should make sure they take notice, because ultimately they're the ones whose lives are being placed at risk."

Mr Marshall says that in 25 years of being a firefighter, he has never seen anything like the devastation Victoria is currently facing.

"Firefighters, volunteers and professional staff have done a fantastic job, but they'll carry many scars for many years after these fire have long gone," he said.

"What we're trying to do is make sure moral is kept high. We've set up a website which allows members of the public to send a message of support or express their gratitude."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/02/12/2489847.htm

UFUA's Peter Marshall's letter to Kevin Rudd and John Brumby

Found at:

Yorke Peninsula Times
Tuesday, 17 February 2009

On behalf of over 13,000 firefighters and support staff in Australia, I write this open letter to request a national review of Australia's fire risk and our readiness to meet future catastrophic events.

The recent fires in Victoria ripped through towns and suburbs and farms and forests, destroying lives and livelihoods. Ashen remains are the sorrowful legacy of the devastation it caused. Never before in Australian history have we been confronted with such destruction at the hands of fire.

Firefighters work in conditions that most of the public tries to flee. We often put our lives on the line. We understand that our job is dangerous by its very nature. However, we are gravely concerned that current Federal and State Government policies seem destined to ensure a repeat of the recent tragic events.

Consider the recent devastation in Victoria. Research by the CSIRO, Climate Institute and the Bushfire Council found that a "low global warming scenario" will see catastrophic fire events happen in parts of regional Victoria every 5-7 years by 2020, and every 3-4 years by 2050, with up to 50% more extreme danger fire days. However, under a "high global warming scenario", catastrophic events are predicted to occur every year in Mildura, and firefighters have been warned to expect an up to 230% increase in extreme danger fire days in Bendigo. And in Canberra, the site of devastating fires in 2003, we are being asked to prepare for up to a massive 221% increase in extreme fire days by 2050, with catastrophic events predicted once up to every eight years. Given the Federal Government's dismal 5% greenhouse gas emissions cuts, the science suggests we are well on the way to guaranteeing that somewhere in the country there will be an almost annual repeat of the recent disaster and more frequent extreme weather events.

Something is going on: as we battle blazes here in Victoria, firefighters are busy rescuing people from floods in Queensland. Without a massive turnaround in policies, aside from the tragic loss of life and property, we will be asking firefighters to put themselves at an unacceptable risk. Firefighters know that it is better to prevent an emergency than to have to rescue people from it, and we urge State and Federal Governments to follow scientific advice and keep firefighters and the community safe by halving the country's greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

Unfortunately, however, the scientists are advising that no matter what we do, a "low global warming" scenario is almost inevitable, and so we must be making fire plans accordingly. Fire does not respect state borders and we need a national inquiry into the state of readiness of the country's fire services to meet this century's challenges. Our existing resources cannot be expected to cope with even the "low global warming" scenario of a 25% increase in extreme fire days - and catastrophic fire events every five years - in major Victorian country locations in just under 12 years' time. Likewise, when the scientists tell us that under a "low warming" scenario in 2020, Wagga faces "very extreme" events every two years warning bells must surely be ringing.

Climate change, however, is only one factor. There are many other pressures on our fire services. As cities expand into formerly rural areas and "growth corridors", many volunteer brigades find their new members have full-time jobs in the city and all the pressures of urban life, and therefore less time to devote to firefighting; these areas need more resources. And professional firefighters routinely perform duties from rescue to emergency medical response, and we are now trained to be part of the frontline response to any terrorist attacks; duties we are proud to perform but which will increasingly put us under strain as we respond to more and more fires.

The real question now must be whether the nation as a whole is devoting the resources it needs to fire prevention and suppression. We are gravely concerned that the Royal Commission to be set up in Victoria will have a narrow brief to investigate a geographically-specific disaster. It cannot have the scope needed to provide an overview of Australia's fire readiness. Further, we want to ensure that it is not a whitewash, with narrow terms of reference designed to ensure political cover for the Victorian Government. The proposed Victorian Royal Commission should be folded into a broader national inquiry into the nature of Australia's fire risk and our preparedness to meet that risk.

Consideration must also be given to massive new Federal and State investment in infrastructure and firefighters. A portion of any stimulus package must go towards preventing future disaster as well as rebuilding after the current one.

Finally, now is not the time to play a "blame game" with respect to the Victorian fires. However, at the appropriate time, we hope to be able to publicly air the concerns we have been conveying over many years to those in power about the state of readiness of our fire services. A national inquiry would allow Australia to get to the bottom of what happened but also work out how to ensure that nowhere in the country will it happen again. We urge State and Federal Governments to make sure this tragedy was not in vain: grasp this opportunity to develop Australia's first ever national approach to fire and rescue.

http://www.ypct.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4538&Itemid=1

2008-2012
2005-2012
Project SafeCom