DJW Edit: Photo: Alex Coppel
Dear Mr Rudd and Mr Brumby,
On behalf of more than 13,000 firefighters and support staff in Australia, I write this open letter to request a review of Australia's fire risk and our readiness to meet future catastrophic events.
The fires in Victoria have ripped through towns and suburbs, farms and forests, destroying lives and livelihoods. Ashen remains are the sorrowful legacy of the devastation they 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 try 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 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 five to seven years by 2020, and every three to four years by 2050, with up to 50 per cent 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 up to a 230 per cent 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 a massive increase of up to 221 per cent in extreme fire days by 2050, with catastrophic events predicted as often as every eight years. Given the Federal Government's dismal greenhouse gas emissions cut of 5 per cent, 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.
There is a tiny speck in centre-right of the image. (Click to enlarge)
It is a commercial airliner flying in to land at Tullamarine Airport.
No doubt the Pilot was glad to have touched down ahead of that cloud of ash.
Unfortunately, the name of the photographer is not known to me.
This was circulated via email today.
DJW EDIT: Photo: Stuart McEvoy
Peter Marshall's Open Letter continues:
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 front-line 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.
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. But 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 to 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 wasn't completely in vain: grasp this opportunity to develop Australia's first-ever national approach to fire and rescue
Peter Marshall is national secretary of the United Firefighters Union of Australia.