Revealing lessons learnt from NSW fires

With southern Australia’s peak bush fire season just around the corner, how prepared are residents in high-risk areas to deal with worst-case scenarios should they arise?

La Trobe University researchers are helping answer that question by talking to people who know best – those who have just been though the devastating Blue Mountains and Port Stephens bushfires in NSW.

Adjunct Professor in Psychological Science, Dr Jim McLennan, said it’s part of a major study for the NSW Rural Fire Service to improve community bushfire safety in the aftermath of the October fires.

Dr McLennan leads a Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre taskforce which spent early December in Port Stephens north of Newcastle. 

There, interview teams comprising La Trobe researchers and NSW Rural Fire Service staff spoke to more than 50 households in the worst affected areas.

His taskforce is now working in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, where about 200 homes were lost.

‘We record details of each property, the fire’s behaviour and interview householders about their experiences before, during and after the event.’ 

He said fire survivors are being asked five key questions: their perceived level of risk before the fire, did they have a fire plan, what alerted them to the imminent threat on the day of the fire, what did they do, and how did it all work out?

Dr McLennan said it was already clear the greater number of people either defended their homes or left. ‘A smaller number waited before making a judgement, and some just hoped for the best’.

La Trobe researchers in Port Stephens were Masters of Education student Toni Domaschenz, Psychology PhD candidate Brad Hodge, Clinical Neuropsychology student James Lewis, and research assistant Lyndsay Pamment.

The current Blue Mountains task force comprises Dr McLennan, Mr Hodge, Ms Pamment  and other researchers from RMIT, Wollongong University and the University of Melbourne. 

‘Our findings will be summarised in a report for NSW Rural Fire Service aimed at helping the agency to improve community bushfire safety during this and future bushfire seasons,’ Dr McLennan concluded.

Media contact

Dr Jim McLennan, Bushfire CRC Research Leader: E

Ernest Raetz, Media and Communications: M 041 226 1919