Australian officials yesterday announced a new warning for “catastrophic” bushfires, under which residents would be urged to abandon their homes rather than stay and fight the flames.
The scrapping of the controversial “stay or go” policy, which left homeowners to make their own decision on whether to flee an approaching blaze, follows February’s so-called “Black Saturday” fires in which 173 people died.
Victoria state Premier John Brumby said the new fire danger rating system acknowledged that when weather conditions were at the most extreme level — termed Code Red (Catastrophic) — lives would be in danger.
“There is no house that can be guaranteed to be 100 percent safe on such a day,” he told reporters.
Authorities will not be able to force people to leave their homes, but residents of bushfire-prone areas will now be strongly urged to seek safety elsewhere early on a Code Red day, he said.
“A Code Red (Catastrophic) day will also carry the warning that: people may die or be injured; thousands of homes or businesses may be destroyed; and well prepared, well constructed homes may not be safe during a fire,” he said.
As Australia enters into the southern hemisphere summer, Brumby said it was crucial that the lessons of the Feb. 7 fires remained “fresh in the minds of all Victorians.”
“The task for us all is to work together to be as fire-safe and as fire-ready as possible, to protect lives in a fire season that’s shaping up to be every bit as bad or worse than the season we’ve just experienced,” he said.
It is expected that at least one day this summer will reach the Code Red level seen on Feb. 7 when entire towns and more than 2,000 homes were destroyed in the blazes, Australia’s worst natural disaster of modern times.
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