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'Concerning' mistake Aussies are making ahead of 'traumatising' bushfire season

A low proportion of Australians have started taking steps to protect their property despite repeated bushfire warnings.

Experts are extremely "concerned" that many Aussies are ill-prepared for a bushfire season that has already begun.

A startlingly low percentage of Australians know what they would do if a bushfire threatened their home, new research reveals, and even less have started to take steps to protect and prepare their property during the last six months.

NRMA Insurance Meteorologist and former Senior Forecaster at the Bureau of Meteorology, Dr Bruce Buckley, told Yahoo News Australia it's extremely worrying that, of 3,500 Aussies surveyed, only one in four people know what they would do in the case of a bushfire burning near their home.

Two photos side by side. Left image shows a house on fire. Right image shows a hill of trees on fire.
One in four people know what they would do in the case of a bushfire burning near their home. Source: Getty

"Bushfires are exceptionally traumatising," he said. "They're one of the few natural disasters that can cause complete and total loss of homes and possessions. But people can do a lot to protect their property and themselves — they just need to take action."

In light of the research, NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Director of Communications and Community Engagement, Anthony Bradstreet, is urging people to get their bushfire survival plans organised now. He told Yahoo News "preparation is the main thing people can do" to try and remain safe through bushfire season.

The important numbers

  • 49% — the amount of Australians concerned about being impacted by bushfire or grassfire during spring and summer.

  • 23% - the percentage of Aussies who have taken steps to protect and prepare their homes in the past six months.

  • 1 in 4 — how many people know what they would do if a bushfire threatened their home.

  • 55% — the percentage of people who plan to take action to prepare for wild weather between now and summer.

  • 2019 — when Australia last had an El Niño climate pattern. It is the same year that led to the 'black summer' fires.

Why does the season ahead have so many warnings?

Australia has been hit with a double-whammy this year, with El Niño and a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) both officially declared this month.

"These large-scale climate forcing mechanisms are the two most prominent for bush threatened their home, ew research reveals, and even less have started to take steps to protect and prepare their property during the last six months.

On top of this, Australia has had "heavy rainfall leading up to a dry spell, which means an exceptionally heavy growth of grass is now drying out" causing a "dramatic risk of bushfires, and particularly grass fires".

We are already seeing the "major impacts of these climate patterns", with 60 out of control fires in NSW alone on Thursday.

How people can prepare for bushfires

Mr Bradstreet told Yahoo there's three questions he asks people to really think about when making a bushfire survival plan. Where will you go, how will you get there, and how will you leave?

He also asks people to consider what are the roads like? If they are roads near bush, you need to leave a lot earlier.

"It's too common that people leave these decisions to the last minute — and that's a problem," he said.

Dr Buckley pointed out how much can be done to "protect your property" and give it a fighting chance if faced with fire. You can "clean your gutters, trim back branches that overhang your house or sheds, make sure your hoses reach all around the house, and make sure you look out for fire alerts by using an app like Fires Near Me."

Each state or territory's Fire and Emergency Services also have a bushfire survival plan template online for the public to use as a guide.

Two photos side by side. The right image shows a woman and a man embracing, looking at their burnt down home. The left image shows a man in a hat looking at his burnt down property, with a burnt out car in the background.
People are being urged to make a bushfire survival plan. Source: Getty

La Niña's reign meant less risk for three years

Part of the reason people are "a bit complacent", and experts are seeing a lack of urgency despite the warnings, is the "couple of years of wetter weather" we have experienced leading up to now, Dr Buckley explained.

"People get a bit apathetic because they didn’t have this same risk during that time," he said.

La Niña — essentially the opposite of El Niño and associated with increased rainfall — was the weather pattern reigning over the last three years, bringing with it wetter weather and less risk of bush and grass fires between 2020 and 2022.

Do you have a story? Contact reporter Laura Koefoed at laura.koefoed@yahooinc.com

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com.

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