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Fire and flood

February 8th, 2009

The news from the fires in Victoria just keeps getting worse, with whole towns wiped out and more than 60 people confirmed dead. We can only hope the change in the weather will give firefighters a better chance. The loss of life in the Queensland floods has not been so severe, but there is still widespread devastation.

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  1. observa
    February 10th, 2009 at 13:39 | #1

    On that point I’ll make a fairly confident prediction that when all the investigations and recriminations are done and dusted, we’ll find barely anyone died inside a home built to modern bushfire codes (adopted around 2000 I think)

  2. February 10th, 2009 at 23:06 | #2

    I meant, if there is an unobstructed access trench running from the house, there is an unobstructed access trench running to the house – and that access to the house needs burglar proofing, not the access to the bunkers. At the cost of a small obstruction, the simplest arrangement I can think of is a double upward opening trapdoor with the upper door hinged on the opposite side to the lower so that upward pressure lacks the leverage to lift it (all with the usual bolts locking to the frame so that the hinges can’t be forced).

  3. Peter Evans
    February 11th, 2009 at 10:39 | #3

    Jack @27 – depends how you measure it. There have been worse maritime disasters in Australian waters (the Cataraqui founding on King Island in 1845 killed 400 odd).

    Don’t mean to be a pedant, but people always go for the “worst ever” whenever something really bad happens.

    Anyway, the Victorian fires are bloody awful.

  4. Alanna
    February 11th, 2009 at 10:57 | #4

    Why does a bunker need to be near the house? In US movies tornado bunkers are often in a shed floor and further one family who survived said they built their bunker into the side of a natural embankment. This would seem to make sense. If there is a slight hill anywhere perhaps there would be a way to keep earth on top and have the doors sloping at the side so that the fire passes over the top? Like war movies where you see hidey holes for shooting at ships or subs. Im sure there is a way to design ver effective bunkers that could enable people to stay and defend as long as possible and then seek refuge. The bathroom isnt good enough and teh choice between the bathroom and the car has proved disastrous to the stay and defend polcy. One fellow seemed to survive by retreating into a concrete bunker standing vertically also. I do know when bushfires have ringed Kuringgai Campus at lindfield (when the homes in a neighbouring street were razed) – the campus stayed intact and the fire burnt around it because it was built from preformed concrete slabs (brutalist style).

    There has to be an effective bunker system that is relatively inexpensive to install or construct. Also trees should be cleared from around properties and restored fire trail maintenance and backburning systems implemented. Its not as if experts have not been saying these things – the choppers are good but they are not enough on their own.

  5. February 11th, 2009 at 11:48 | #5

    Alanna, a bunker does not need to be near the house as such, but it does need to be safely accessible from there as people might well have to start from there – and proximity is a factor in that.

  6. February 11th, 2009 at 11:52 | #6

    Peter Evans, if you want pedantry you should know that the Cataraqui didn’t “found” (I think you meant founder), it was wrecked. When a ship hits something hard, that’s a wreck. When it breaks up in open water, that’s foundering. It’s actually not a quibble, because the chances of surviving a wreck are far higher.

  7. Peter Evans
    February 11th, 2009 at 13:38 | #7

    PML, one learns something every day!

  8. February 11th, 2009 at 14:19 | #8

    One thing is for sure, high rates of rural and regional sprawl, to the swathe of land ringing the urban fringe, will continue to put more and more people into harms way. And the harm will only get worse as global warming dries the land out.

    Over the past decade there has been a massive displacement of people from the urban centre to the regional periphery, usually within one to two hours commute of the CBD. This is sometimes called tree-change but the driving forces are quite different to the sea-change phenomenon.

    Many of the new households springing up in semi-rural environments are young families driven out of the City by the massive immigrant-renter and boomer-investor driven bubbles in land prices. The tree-changers are attracted by the cheaper regional land prices which allow an affordable traditional life-style for their families (back-yard for the kids, shed for the bloke, village community for the missus,) whilst still living within a return day-trip to family, friends and firms in the City.

    But, as the founder of the dismal science once inferred, there is only so much edible chocolate cake to go around. Michael Buxton argues we are running up against the natural limits of the contemporary urban development model:

    A DANGEROUS cocktail of increased fire risk and higher populations is emerging on the periphery of many Australian cities and regional centres.

    Governments usually have been in denial over this issue. The population growth rates of many of these “peri-urban” municipalities is double the state averages. Increasing numbers of Australians are building houses on small rural lots in some of the most fire-prone land in the world. Many of these new houses cannot be defended against fire.

    Many people understandably want it all. But buying a semi-rural lifestyle close to a metropolitan area often has unintended consequences. More than 4000 rural dwellings have been built in six municipalities on the Melbourne fringe since 1998, but 52,000 rural lots remain undeveloped. More dispersed development will place many more people in harm’s way, unprepared for a major bushfire.

    Massive immigration looks great on the economic balance sheet, which is how most elites make decisions. But it is a disaster for the ecologic balance sheet. Eventually nature bites back.

  9. observa
    February 12th, 2009 at 11:13 | #9

    It would seem John Brumby is preempting the insurance industry-

    ‘As Premier John Brumby warned that the death toll in Marysville alone could reach 100 — a fifth of the town’s population — the State Government was planning a drastic policy change that will prevent it being rebuilt in anything like its original form…..

    Mr Brumby’s longstanding opposition to any changes that would make housing more expensive has been rocked by the huge death toll in the town wiped out by Saturday’s bushfires.

    The Age believes Mr Brumby will announce today that Victoria will leapfrog other states by imposing Australia’s toughest standard for high-fire-risk areas — ending the common practice of building flammable houses in fire-prone bush.

    Experts say that forcing residents on Melbourne’s fringe to build high-tech, fire-resistant housing could add $20,000 to the cost of a home.’

    Sounds about right cost wise, with a further caveat that it will restrict architectural design choice (more function less form) unless money is no object. Perhaps the other thing we’ll have to think about is making toilet/bathroom blocks in national parks and camping spots double as fire retreats in particulrly vulnerable areas at least.

  10. smiths
    February 12th, 2009 at 17:47 | #10

    13,000 firefighters are no longer skeptical,

    they want some real action,

    some opf the brave skeptics around here should volunteer to explain to them why even though their lives are at risk increasingly, we dont know yet about the science…

  11. LYNDA HALINEN
    February 12th, 2009 at 21:28 | #11

    I used to visit my sons grandmother who lived on a sheep property near Broadford. 15 years ago I was told by friends and family at the farm to look out for spot fires and vechiles acting scpiciciously. I questioned why. The answer I got was alarming. We have a lot of problems with Arsonists. I was 9 years old in Central Queensland when my father asked my brother 10 and myself to fight a fire lit by an Arsonist my father saw light the fire. The Arsonist drove away quickly and was never caught. The fire became large within minuites.

    In Queensland my relatives are battling floods, My immeditate family have only a few months ago been through our own disaster with a horriffic hail storm. My children were screaming as the frount of our house was broken up with the hail and the lounge window broken. A peice of flying glass went sideways though our lounge door and down the hallway at the kids, our two cats and dog and me. Our cat became a hero as He took the glass in his leg and it bounced of him and tapped me on the shoulder not injuring me. The vet was helpful and our cat has made a full recovery.

    My children as are most children in our town slowly getting over their fear of storms.

    My sons grandmother lives near Broadford, around 3kms from a very small town called Glenaroura. I dont know if she or her property survived the fires. All I can do is hope and pray she is allright. Bev had so many friends who had farms like herself and were around her age late 70s to 80s. They loved the land were they spent most of their lives. Some all their lives. It is hard to think that some of them could be gone now and their farms in such a horriffic way. They lived their lives to the fullest and loved the land and its people in their area. I want so many Australians to take a minuite to remember their bravery. This was akin to a war, a war against nature. It is with great sadness that I write this as I remember when Summer would come and my family and their friends would be on the look out for fires lit by Arsonist. It is so sad that it was so hard to catch them and stop it from happening. Now they may have lost their lives and everything they loved. Let us not forget their animals, their horses, sheep, cattle and their dogs, cats and chooks. Spare a thought for the wildlife too the native birds that would sing in the trees, the kangaroos that would jump across the hills, the koalas in the trees. There was so much and more that made this area so uniquely Australian and so beautiful. These farmers I knew cared for and loved thought for years against Arsonist. Protecting what they loved. It is beyond words and with so much pain in my heart when I realise that they may have died at the hands of Arsonists.

    We love our country, People should not have to suffer like this.

    I do believe global warming is making Australian weather conditions hotter than they have been in past decades. I also believe this with a combination of a lot more people moving to areas outside of Melbourne that are prone to bad bushfires is a factor. Along with the social issues with Arsonist being a threat in these areas. The combination of warmer drier weather, bigger popuations and Arsonists on the increase. Is an enviromental and social problem.

    Anyone with imformation on Bev please contact me on the following Email Address [email protected]

    I would kindly appreicate anyone letting me know if she is safe.

  12. Greg Wood
    February 12th, 2009 at 22:42 | #12

    Jack @58;
    You’re spot on with your view of the root of the problem.
    For some reason though it seems to be an invisible concept to those chewing on the band-aids of bunkers and building code regulation.

    Cleaning up the vitals of planning and contrived demand growth is obviously too radical to be confronted. Let’s face it. A real cure to the problem would be bad for the economy. Couldn’t have that!

    Although seeing as the economy is collapsing irretrievably anyway, it seems a great time to move to an entirely new model. Why not mindfully embrace zero growth rather than gut ourselves in sheer terror of it?

  13. February 15th, 2009 at 08:31 | #13

    Of course, I endorse the views of Greg Wood amd jack strocchi

    The website I administer has attracted a considerable number of visitors and articles concerning the Victorian bush fires. They concern the conservation and land-use planning implications of the bush fires. They pose questions about what are the best long-term solution to the problem and challenge many mainstream views about the bush fires. The articles can be found at candobetter.org/VictorianFires2009.

    The bush fires further confirm the views of those who have been arguing for years that runaway population growth, particularly when urban planning is as abysmal as it is in Australia (largely thanks to Malcolm Fraser having abolished Whitlam’s Department of Urban and Regional Development) is unsustainable.

    An article, which I therefore consider related to this tragedy is “How the growth lobby threatens Australia’s future”, which has been re-published on Online Opinion together with a discussion forum.

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