NEARLY one in five people living near bushland in Hobart plan to remain in their homes even under life-threatening bushfire conditions, while four in five expect to experience a serious bushfire during their lifetime, according to data collected from Hobart residents.

The findings are part of new research carried out by the University of Tasmania’s Dr Chloe Lucas in partnership with the City of Hobart, to gauge the community’s attitudes towards bushfire preparation.

Dr Lucas surveyed more than 400 people living on the urban fringe of Hobart in areas most exposed to bushfire risk, including Fern Tree, South Hobart, West Hobart, Lenah Valley and Mt Nelson. Residents also participated in focus groups as part of the study.

The research showed that more than 80 per cent of people in Hobart living close to bushland expect to experience a serious bushfire in their lifetime and almost half said the thought of bushfire caused them stress.

“One of the things that makes people anxious is if they don’t have a clear idea of the point at which they'll decide it's not safe to stay,” Dr Lucas said.

Working out a safe trigger to leave, and how to recognise that trigger when it happens is a vital part of bushfire planning.

Dr Chloe Lucas

As summer approaches, residents are urged to prepare for the upcoming bushfire season, which is expected to start later than usual as a result of the wet spring, but could be fuelled by increased vegetation that will quickly dry out over summer. 

Dr Lucas said many people understand they can dramatically reduce the bushfire risk to their home and family by creating a defendable space, and maintaining their house and garden.

“More than 70 per cent of people we surveyed feel that preparing for bushfire will significantly reduce damage to their home in the event of a bushfire, and 45 per cent believe preparing their home for bushfire will increase the value of their property,” Dr Lucas said.

A fuel-reduction burn on Huon Road. Picture: Melanie Gent

Lord Mayor Anna Reynolds said the data provided an insight into the level of bushfire preparation in the community

"These research findings show we still have a huge amount of work to do in preparing our communities for increasingly dangerous bushfire seasons," Cr Reynolds said.

"The fact that many people believe they can flee a bushfire at the last minute, when smoke and approaching fire create the most dangerous conditions, is terrifying and tells us we must do more to inform our community about how to prepare and survive a bushfire.

"The clear message from bushfire agencies across the country is that leaving early is the safest option to protect yourself and your family from severe or catastrophic bushfire, and that means leaving before a fire starts, not when you can see flames or smell smoke.”

The City of Hobart is using the research to better prepare residents for this year's bushfire season. This year’s annual bushfire mitigation program includes a series of planned fuel reduction burns, fuel break and fire trail upgrade and maintenance, and local street-level community bushfire meetings.

All residents who live in or near bushland are urged to prepare or review their Bushfire Survival Plan. Information on how to create a plan is available at bushfire.tas.gov.au

Key Findings

·       29% of people don't think it's worth preparing for bushfire if their neighbours don't.

·       Residents rated the risk from nearby bushland and neighbours' property as far greater than                from their own property, although research shows that preparing the area immediately                          surrounding your home is the most important to protect your property from bushfire.

·       46% say they need help to prepare for bushfire.

·       At least 18% of people said they would stay and defend their homes from bushfire and would                consider leaving only in extreme circumstances – which is the worst time to leave.

About Dr Chloe Lucas

Dr Chloe Lucas is a communication specialist whose research explores the social dimensions of climate change. As a documentary producer, an environmental communications consultant, and now as an academic, Chloe’s career has focused on ways to improve communication about climate and sustainability across all sections of society.

View Dr Chloe Lucas's full researcher profile