Australian Inquiry Recommends Sweeping Changes to Handle Catastrophic Bushfires

SYDNEY, AUSTRALA - A high-level report into Australia’s devastating “Black Summer” bushfires warns that natural disasters are becoming “more complex, more unpredictable, and more difficult to manage.”

The Royal Commission, a high-level public inquiry into Australia’s bushfires, said the Black Summer fires of 2019 occurred during Australia’s hottest and driest year on record. According to the commission’s final report, more than 24 million hectares of land were burned. Thirty-three people died, and more than 3,000 homes were destroyed.

The commission was set up in February to examine how Australia could become more resilient in the face of natural calamities.

It has identified climate change as a key factor in an increasingly dangerous future. It warned that extreme weather had already become more frequent and intense because of climate change, bringing with it floods and bushfires.

In the report released Friday, the inquiry said traditional firefighting methods might be no match for catastrophic fire conditions in the years and decades to come, when Australia would likely have more hot days and fewer cool days.

The commission offered 80 recommendations, including the need for a national aerial firefighting fleet. Water-bombing aircraft are operated by individual states and territories, and the commission called for greater across-the-board cooperation between federal and local authorities. An integrated country-wide early warning system to alert residents was also recommended.

David Littleproud, the minister for emergency management, said the report also advised harnessing firefighting techniques successfully used by Indigenous Australians.

“It also brings into light the role that First Australians can play, and I have said this when this disaster first hit us back at the start of the year, is that our First Australians have a significant role to play in educating us and working with the new science to make sure that were can prepare better for particular bushfires in the future,” he said.

Aboriginal methods involve the lighting of small so-called “cool” fires in specific areas during the early dry season between March and July. The flames burn slowly, reducing vegetation that can feed wildfires and that creates fire breaks.

Australia’s federal, state and territory leaders will soon discuss the Royal Commission’s recommendations. Campaigners are urging them to adopt all of the recommendations and do more to address the impact of climate change.

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