Australia has made it into the international news with the stories of the horrific bushfires in the state of Victoria, which have left 128 people dead (as of this morning), the highest number of deaths in a single disaster in this country since WWII. For those of you unfamiliar with the geography of Australia, this is about 1300 kms (815 miles) from our home in Brisbane, Queensland. Having lived in Southern California for 10 years, I am pretty familiar with the dangers of living in an arid climate. A noteworthy cultural observation, however, is that Victoria and some of the other Aussie states have a bushfire policy that is quite different from their counterparts in the United States. People here, especially in the rural parts, are actually encouraged to stay behind to protect their homes. They are trained what to do when a fire occurs, and supposedly take precautions to reduce the likelihood of their home catching fire. As this article in the Los Angeles Times noted, "Americans expect firefighters to protect their lives and property. Australians in rural communities view that as their own responsibility." As the graph below apparently shows, the Australian policy has been effective...until this past weekend.
Unfortunately, this time the weather conditions were 'ideal' for the fires to race through whole towns so quickly that residents couldn't really do anything to protect their homes, but were suddenly trapped when they realised the enormity of what was happening. One of the startling discoveries in the past few days is the number of people who died in cars as they were trying to flee the scene. The Premier of Victoria has already stated that it is time to review the 'stay or go' bushfire policy.