Prepare for more scorchers, Gillard warns
Prime Minister Julia Gillard inspects ashes from the Dunalley Primary School. Photo: Peter Mathew
Prime Minister Julia Gillard underscored the dangers facing Australia this summer from climate change as she saw Tasmanian bushfire ruins, and warned people to expect more.
Ms Gillard said that New South Wales faced potentially catastrophic conditions on Tuesday and the crisis was not over in Tasmania.
While the south-east fires that devastated Dunalley were easing, the island faced a new emergency warning in north-west dairy country near Mawbanna, where a fast-running fire threatened the community.
Ms Gillard said extreme bushfires were part of life in a hot and dry country.
''And while you would not put any one event down to climate change … we do know that over time as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events,'' she said.
Walking through the remains of the Dunalley primary school, she said people in NSW needed to be prepared for scorching temperatures, with some fires already burning.
''Everyone can remember what their school was like, how they saw their kids grow. This is a devastating scene,'' she said of the twisted roofing iron and scorched earth.
''But the worst thing is if human lives are lost.''
Ms Gillard's escorted convoy drove into Dunalley past an inspection team, clad in white protective clothing, sifting slowly through the wreckage of a house.
After searching 245 properties in and around Dunalley, police still had not uncovered any fatalities.
The toll of property losses in Tasmania has reached about 100 buildings, most of them homes or holiday cottages.
''It's an awful scene,'' Ms Gillard said. ''The devastation and the randomness of it. There's so much cruelty, and luck and fate.''
She met one survivor, grandfather Bob Brakey, who left his house south of Dunalley with his wife when the fire came through last Friday, and he realised his water supply was inadequate for fighting it.
Mr Brakey saw his home of 25 years burn, but was philosophical. ''I'm probably one of the lucky ones. My insurance company has worked pretty well for me. I'm still disappointed to lose everything, though.''
At the beginning of an election year, Ms Gillard also posed for photos with locals and firemen in Dunalley. She withheld a commitment to rebuild the Dunalley primary school, a key community building, but that was guaranteed later in the day by state Greens Education Minister Nick McKim.
Ms Gillard also ran into grumpy locals, four days after the fire cost many of them everything.
"When are we going to get our generator?" shouted Lyol Kravitz, who lost his home at nearby Boomer Bay, from the verandah of the Dunalley pub. Mr Kravitz said more should be done to clean up the town before hazardous materials swirled around further. ''Out of 10 houses that went, eight of them were full of asbestos,'' he said.
■ A man has been accused of starting a 10,000-hectare bushfire in southern Tasmania. Police allege a 31-year-old New Norfolk man left a campfire unattended near Lake Repulse last week, sparking the huge blaze which has burned through 10,600 hectares since Friday. Police said they would proceed with a charge of leaving an unextinguished fire unattended.