Spotlight on bushfire research and researchers in science podcast | Natural Hazards Research Australia

Spotlight on bushfire research and researchers in science podcast

Photo: Ned Dawson, NSW RFS
Release date

18 January 2024

The severity, complexity and changing nature of Australia’s bushfire seasons and the research – and researchers - informing planning and response have been showcased in a new podcast series.

Debunks’ Bushfire series, produced by Cosmos and 9Podcasts, speaks with Centre CEO Andrew Gissing, as well as Centre researcher Dr Hamish Clarke (University of Melbourne) and CRC postgraduate alumnus Dr Steve Sutton to get to grips with issues such as the Australian Fire Rating System, community and individual preparedness, fireproofing property, Australia’s fire history and the influence of climate change.

In the episode, “Do I really have to leave when the rating is catastrophic?,” Andrew discusses individual fire preparedness rates, as well as the psychological obstacles to people leaving at-risk areas early.

“Generally, people aren’t well prepared for natural hazards across the country. Most people are also unprepared to leave on the basis of a weather report,” says Andrew.

Following the February 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, where conditions were outside the bounds of the McArthur Fire Danger Rating system, research informed the establishment of a more flexible index that ensured continuity of messaging and actions across states and territories.

Andrew states the importance of being prepared, but also individuals’ responsibility to actively monitor emergency information.

“It’s really good to have numerous ways to get warning so it’s not just about the (emergency) app and it’s not just about the text messages you might be getting. It’s about having a battery powered radio so you can listen to the ABC and other emergency broadcasters to get current, local information.”

Adj Prof Jim McLennan (La Trobe University) goes on the raise the ongoing challenge facing emergency broadcasters and responders to leave early when conditions are dangerous, especially when residents haven’t faced a fire threat before.

“The challenge for community safety units in the rural fire agencies is a bit like that of painting the (Sydney) Harbour Bridge - you never finish. You get to one end, and you start again at the other,” says Jim.

Featured extensively, including in a special bonus episode, Jim led the then Bushfire CRC’s post fire social research after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, where more than 600 residents were interviewed about their responses to warnings, behaviour during the bushfires and decision making.

Jim spoke at length about the findings from this research, which included post-fire interviews with residents after fires in the Lake Clifton (2011) and the Perth Hills (2014) in Western Australia, Tasmania (2013) and Yass, Shoalhaven, Coonabarabran, the Blue Mountains, Southern Highlands and Port Stephens (2013).

Other episodes in the series include: Do hazard reduction burns really work? (read a previous write up here); Can I fire-proof my home?; Who causes bushfires?; Has Australia always had bushfires this bad?; and An interview with Professor Jim McLennan.

Listen to the podcase on the Cosmos website or on your preferred podcast platform.