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The threat of fires in a changing climate

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A Curtin University of Technology academic wants authorities to ban new houses being built in fire prone areas and the number of volunteer firefighters increased.

Associate Professor Grant Wardell-Johnson has made these calls as the effects of climate change increase the likelihood of more devastating bushfires.

“For many years now there has been a rising trend in the number of extreme fire events occurring in Australia,” he said.

“This is a trend that is likely to intensify in the future as climate change makes much of southern Australia a hotter, drier place to live.

“We have to accept that climate change is happening and this is going to fundamentally change the way we live. The era of business as usual is over.”

Associate Professor Wardell-Johnson, who has more than 25 years experience studying WA’s south-west forests, said prescribed burning alone was not a viable solution to protect communities from bushfires.

“When homes are built in fire prone areas they need to be built to higher standards and their occupants must have the required training to deal with fires, making membership of local fire brigades compulsory.”

“Although prescribed burning can protect communities near flammable bush in moderate conditions, it will not solve the problem of extreme conditions when even very young, green wood becomes fuel,” he said.

“We have to establish new strategies such as changing planning rules to avoid building in fire risk areas, better social support systems in the bush, and strategic prescribed burning.

“The rapid population increase around the edges of cities, bush and agricultural areas increases the risk of fires damaging property and endangering lives.

“Despite societies’ best efforts, increasing property and biodiversity losses are inevitable.

“It is therefore imperative that society engages in every way it can to adapting to the impacts of climate change.”

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