The 2019/2020 bushfires have clearly risen to new ferocity. They have happened once. They could happen again, or worse.
The cost of the bushfires is horrendous in loss of human life, livestock and wildlife as well as property. Preparation must be made to protect them from future bushfire events, possibly as early as the 2020/2021 bushfire season, as well as recovery, restoration and rebuilding from this fire storm.
The people affected by the bushfire need two things: immediate funds to live on; and permanent bushfire defences.
There are many government bushfire policy matters to be considered in the crisis that is not over yet. Three rock bottom essential policies are offered here in order of urgency:
First, never again should firefighters be prevented from saving people, and never again should people be prevented from evacuating by bushfires cutting the Princes Highway. The Princes Highway and other major Highways should be turned into firebreaks and sanctuaries for people and wildlife.
All trees should be cut down within 100m of the Highway on both sides through forest areas. Before each fire season the 100m on both sides should be disk ploughed next to the road and next to the forest. Local fire services should burn the 90m between the ploughed strips to complete the firebreak.
Work should start immediately and be funded immediately. It would provide jobs and income for many locals. The money would circulate in the areas where needed and relieve financial distress. The local Shires should be funded to employ workers to cut and clear. They know the Highways, the communities and the people. They can organise work on the spot and the Federal Government can organise to pay them quickly.
Small skillion roofed frameworks should be built every few kilometres to collect drinking water for travellers and provide troughs for wildlife. No wire netting fences should be installed that would prevent wildlife crossing to escape fire.
Second, a 100m firebreak should be made around the perimeter of all townships and towns in forested areas organised by local Shires. Work and funding should start now creating jobs to cut down trees and clear up. The firebreaks should be ploughed and burnt before the next fire season. Local authorities should ensure houses and large buildings are ember proof and enough water supply for ember storms.
Third, the aim should be to stop all bushfires as they start before they get away, from the beginning of the bushfire season. Two challenging objectives should be to advise of the first sign of a fire within 10 minutes to fire service headquarters and to helicopter water bomb the fire within 30 minutes of advice. If necessary, more bombing should occur.
Infrared surveillance by satellite would be needed to spot the start of fires and advise the location. Helicopter facilities would be needed with water supply. These may be located every 150km or so along the Princes Highway, assuming helicopter speed is 150km/h. Each helicopter would cover a maximum 75km in half an hour to a fire. Their ranges would be designed to overlap and give good early overall coverage. They would be in place later in the season for any fires that get away.
The cost of these policies may be high, but it would be a fraction of the cost of another fire storm and loss of life without it.
It should be taken into account that the proposed east coast mega-region and settlement strategy would increase the regional population by some 13m over the next few decades. It is crucial that they are all safe from bushfires.