This article was originally sent to me on 5 July 09. Apologies to Joan for the delay in publishing - JS
Counsel assisting the Royal Commission into the 2009 bushfires are reported to have advocated the 'reinstatement' of community bushfire shelters.
Communities have never had bushfire shelters to reinstate.
Previous so-called 'community refuges' were not purpose-built bushfire shelters, and most were no safer than a house or any other building. Many were potential death traps. They were buildings with raised, rubbish-littered sub-floors, holiday camps consisting of small, separated timber huts surrounded by metre-high grass, car parks and football grounds reached by narrow, bush-lined tracks.
While a well constructed shelter may provide safety for those who are in it, this is not the
What cannot be assured is:
Two other big aspects for consideration:
The more people dependent on shelters, the more homes left unattended to be destroyed. As each burning house send off embers to ignite other houses the rebuilding costs for a shelter-dependent society will be astronomical - annually.
Isn't it cheaper and better all round to teach individual and community safety? In schools, workplaces, clubs, migrant centres …?
Isn't it cheaper and better all round for grants and low interest loans to be made available to low income residents of bushfire prone areas before the bushfire season, to help them prepare their homes for bushfire safety?
Isn't it cheaper and better all round for specific funding to be provided to municipal councils to help less able householders put their properties in a safe state before summer?
The more households who prepare their homes, grounds and prepare themselves properly in the knowledge of bushfire defence and survival, the less places will be needed in refuges and the more homes will survive for well founded evacuees to return to.
© Joan WebsterAuthor of The Complete Bushfire Safety Book (Random House 2000) andEssential Bushfire Safety Tips (CSIRO 2008)
See also: "How misconceptions about bushfire bunkers may cost lives" of 21 Jun 09, and "Fire bunkers could have helped in the Victorian fires" of 10 Feb 09.