Amanda Ripley

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Crime Scene Australia: The Australian Wildfires

9th Feb 2009 posted in Disaster Behavior

With Australian wildfires claiming at least 171 lives, Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, declared the fire zone a “crime scene.”  Police believe arsonists may be to be blame for the uncontrollable fires.  Witnesses talk of makeshift morgues in the street.

But what is equally concerning about this horrific and devastating event is not necessarily how or why the fire was started, but rather why traditional warnings systems failed to work as planned. 

John Handmer, a wildfire safety expert, tells MSNBC that getting out early is the best form of defense against spreading wildfires:
 
“Fleeing at the last moment is the worst possible option,” he said. “Sadly, this message does not seem to have been sufficiently heeded this weekend with truly awful consequences in Victoria.”

If research has proven the necessity of getting out early, was the message passed on to Australians facing the wildfires? If not, why? Did the fire move too quickly for evacuation warnings to be broadcast?

Australian officials are apparently blaming panic and the unprecedented speed of the fire, but the Prime Minister vows to find answers.

Stay tuned.