Official bushfire safety advice admitted incorrect

The Country Fire Authority Victoria has admitted that some bushfire safety advice in its publications is incorrect. The Authority has thanked me for bringing these errors to its attention, and undertaken to appoint staff to correct them.

Chief Officer Steve Warrington has informed me:
We acknowledge and are rectifying some of the inconsistencies … We will hire a casual resource to work through these inconsistencies.

This is not the first time I have pointed out these errors, which misinform the public about safe action in certain bushfire situations – but it is the first time such a response has been given, and so promptly. A month ago I  pointed out aspects of misleading advice and outright errors  regarding the inadequacies of house construction; the speed of grassfires; protection provided by cars; and the matter of bushfire deaths close to homes. Below is that incorrect advice and my reasons for refuting it:

 ‘Homes are not designed or constructed to withstand fires in these conditions’
The above statement is contradicted by CFA’s own advice elsewhere that: ‘If you cannot leave the area, consider shelter options close by. These may include a well-prepared home (yours or a neighbour) that you can actively defend’
If this statement is correct, how was it that researchers found that 2/3 of houses in the 2009 fire-grounds did ‘withstand’ even Code Red conditions in 2009 (2010-04-27 Royal Commission into the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Transcript of proceedings -Professor John Handmer Royal Commission Transcript_VBRC_Day_139_27-Apr-2010.PDF.)
And that 80% of actively defended homes – and even 52% of homes not actively defended – survived? (
Construction is an important, but not the main, aspect of house survival.

‘In open grassland (fire) speed in increases up to 60 km per hour.’
The fastest known grassfire flame front is 25 kph. CFA ‘Fire Ready’’s figure of 60 kpk is a misinterpretation of Dr Kevin Tolhurst’s statement on the speed of  short-lived pulses. His modeling indicated that fires can PULSE up to 60 kilometres per hour in open grassland in extreme circumstances.

‘A car is unlikely to protect you from the radiant heat of a grassfire.’
‘If you’re caught in a car, don’t get out and run.’ (Am I at Risk – What to do, point 3.)
‘Sheltering in a car is extremely dangerous.’
Bushfire scientist Phil Cheney PSM, author of ‘Grassfires’ (CSIRO) affirms that this message is wrong.
A car offers considerable protection from radiant heat from both grass and forest fires.  Even the windows reduce the radiant heat flux by about one third and the transmitted flux can be avoided by getting down in the car or screening behind clothing, blankets etc.  The car also offers almost complete protection from convected heat which makes up about 75% of the total flux from a fire.  Not all of this heat is transmitted upward away from the ground, particularly in strong winds, and in some situations presents a major issue for survival.’

Fallacy – misleading
‘Four out of five bushfire deaths happen close to home’
No post-2009 Black Saturday research by bushfire scientists cited any figure of 80%  (‘4 out of 5’) of deaths ‘close to home’. The nearest correct research statistic –  69% – refers to sheltering deaths, an where it makes the point that ‘at least half of these had been sheltering  inappropriately’.
An 80% (4 out of 5)  figure refers to success of home defenders: the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Research Task Force stated that ‘80% of Black Saturday home defenders succeeded.’
No research implies that being ‘close to home’ is a cause of death during bushfire.
In fact, post-2009 Black Saturday research cites no cases of  death of any able-bodied, thoroughly prepared, planned and practiced person who had followed recommended procedure.

‘If sheltering in a building during a bushfire, make sure you have two points of exit – including one direct exit to the outside of the house – in every room used as a shelter.’ ‘Most bathrooms are unsuitable to shelter in. They typically have only one door which can make escape impossible if that exit is blocked by flames and heat.’
‘Most bathrooms also have frosted windows that do not let you see outside.’
These are NOT the reasons it is unsafe to shelter in a bathroom.
The reason it is unsafe to shelter in a bathroom is that unknown to the shelterers, embers could have ignited within the ceiling space, in which fire will gradually build up to flash-over point when fiery ceiling, rafters and roof will fall in upon them. Even before this happens the shelterers may have died from toxic fumes given off by smouldering furnishings or wall lining materials.
Passive shelterers should stay by an exit door, with protective clothing

The CFA is to be commended for taking notice of the criticism, and in such an equable manner as it did. I was very chuffed that Chief Officer Steve Warrington chose to pass this on to me:
I would like to share with you a quote I received from my staff when responding to your issues raised:
“It is of benefit to CFA that a person such as Joan provides constant scrutiny of our messaging, as she has over at least a decade, and we value her input…” ‘.


This entry was posted in Bushfire safety. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Official bushfire safety advice admitted incorrect

  1. norquesta says:

    Dear Joan,

    My lovely home in Lovely Banks is coming along nicely.

    I have incorporated into the whole farm plan your Bushfire Safety information.

    Still more to do are always but well on the way with layout.

    Lush orchards to the North, wide, 6 m access in front of the house and right through the property.

    The more flammable trees are now mulch with citrus and deciduous plantings instead.

    Large gums have been coppiced, interplanted with Kangaroo Apples to provide additional protection.

    Still more to do, but it’s improving each year.

    I have been offering gardening and Sustainabilty workshops from my property, and find people’s understanding of bushfire safety sadly missing.

    Are you still available for public speaking, book sales and signings???

    I would love to have you visit and talk with the local community.

    Please let me know if this is a possibly.

    Looking forward to hearing from you,

    Deborah Loupelis

    Deliciously Inspiring Gardens

    Garden & Sustainability Workshops Geelong Australia 0423 150 448



  2. Carolyn Nicholson says:

    Well done Joan Webster.
    I have always believed that the information given and adds on radio and TV in regard to Bush Fire Safety and home fires are confusing and contradictory. For example: Leave Early; What does that mean? Early on the morning..or when there is early warnings…just what does it mean?


  3. Regina says:

    Your article petlfcrey shows what I needed to know, thanks!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s