By ABC News Online's Cassie White
Posted Thu Feb 12, 2009
- Related Link: Photo Gallery: Bushfire Emergency
Australia is at risk of more tragedies such as the Victorian bushfires if the Federal Government does not reassess its approach to global warming, says the peak firefighters union.
United Firefighters Union of Australia national secretary Peter Marshall has written an open letter to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Victorian Premier John Brumby, on behalf of Australia's 13,000 firefighters.
He says the Government's own CSIRO report shows that under a high global warming scenario "catastrophic events are predicted to occur every year in Mildura and firefighters have been warned to expect up to a 230 per cent increase in extreme danger fire days in Bendigo" alone.
It also shows that in Canberra, where there were horrendous fires in 2003, fire services were being told to prepare for a 221 per cent rise in extreme fire days by 2050.
Mr Marshall says the Victorian fires are happening in the backdrop of the Federal Government global warming report that was released in 2007.
"These fires aren't happening by accidents ... it's highly likely we'll have similar events in other states and territories around Australia in 2010," he said.
"[The Government's own research shows] by 2020 it's going to be a regular occurrence. All the current thinking and science behind protecting communities has not built in the factor of this increase.
With one end of the country drowning in floodwaters and the other end being devastated by fires, the letter urges the Government to follow scientific advice and halve Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
"Without a massive turnaround in policies, aside from the tragic loss of life and property, we will be asking firefighters to put themselves at an unacceptable risk," says the letter.
Despite widely-held suspicion many of the fires were started by arsonists, Mr Marshall says it is the current climate conditions which allowed them to spread in the first place.
"Those types of fires are going to evolve irrespective of whatever the ignition source is - whether it be criminal or lightning strike," he said.
"What used to be a fire that could have been contained to a small area, we're going to see evolve into a wildfire like we've seen in Victoria and that's going to be a regular occurrence."
He says there needs to be an open and accountable discussion on a national level to ensure this kind of tragedy is never repeated.
"The Federal Government should take leadership in this matter ... It's a national problem and there has to be a national approach," he said.
"We're asking the Prime Minister and the Premier to consider our letter. At the end of the day it's the community that matters most here.
"An unprecedented number of lives have been lost in Victoria and we don't want it to happen again. If the Government doesn't take notice of our letter, the public should make sure they take notice, because ultimately they're the ones whose lives are being placed at risk."
Mr Marshall says that in 25 years of being a firefighter, he has never seen anything like the devastation Victoria is currently facing.
"Firefighters, volunteers and professional staff have done a fantastic job, but they'll carry many scars for many years after these fire have long gone," he said.
"What we're trying to do is make sure morale is kept high. We've set up a website which allows members of the public to send a message of support or express their gratitude."