THE escalating toll from the devastating bushfires has forced a review of the policy of allowing people to defend their own homes, but the country's peak body of fire and emergency authorities appealed for no changes to be made "on the run".
"We want to make sure that every single issue, every single factor, everything in relation to the horrific weekend, to the horrific fires on Saturday is investigated and uncovered," the Victorian Premier, John Brumby, said in announcing a royal commission into the bushfires that have claimed more than 130 lives.
The policy of "leave early or stay and defend property" would come under scrutiny, Mr Brumby said.
"It's served us well for 20 years or more," he told radio 3AW. "It's not true to say that of the fire on Saturday. There were many people who had done all of the preparations, had the best fire plans in the world and tragically it didn't save them."
But the chief executive of the Australasian Fire Authorities Council, Naomi Brown, said it would be dangerous to confuse the public when years of research and experience showed that people should either prepare properly and stay on their properties or leave well before a fire's likely arrival.
The council represents 29 Australian and New Zealand fire and emergency authorities, and "stay or go" has been its position for three years.
Ms Brown said if the need for change emerged, the council would do everything in its power to communicate advice effectively to the public before the next bushfire season.
The former Victorian police ministers Andre Haermeyer and Pat McNamara dismissed forced evacuations as an alternative to "stay and fight".
Mr Haermeyer said many of the people killed in the bushfires were as prepared as they could have been.
"This fire turned so quickly and with such a force, you wonder what systems what procedures could have given people chance to get out."
Mr McNamara, who was a police and emergency services minister, said many of those killed appeared to be people fleeing the fires by car, a situation that could be made worse by forced evacuations.
Ms Brown said the Victorian inferno could be an indicator of climate change. The implications for emergency services ranged from rethinking how to fight such fires to what to advise the public about staying or going, she said.
"What we are going to have to look very hard at is the community's capacity and their willingness to be involved beforehand and the sort of behaviour that is required in preparing," she said.
"'Go early or stay and defend' is not simple. It takes understanding. It takes preparation. And that is part of the question, too. How successful have we been in getting the community to understand and take it up?"
The NSW Rural Fire Service assistant commissioner, Rob Rogers, said the current policy was the best at the moment, but if lessons learnt from the Victorian fires meant a change was needed, this change would be done nationally.
A former Australian editor of International Wildfire Magazine , Frank Campbell, questioned the weekend decision to remove trained Victorian firefighters from dangerous fire fronts while telling residents to remain in the same areas until the threat had passed.
"Why were they told it was 'safer' to stay indoors 'until the fire front had passed'? That's good advice for an ordinary fire day, but not for near gale-force winds. Many perished on Saturday because they realised at the last minute they couldn't fight the flames and tried to escape by car."
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