Householders living in fire-prone bushland areas recognised the high fire danger on their doorsteps, but many may treat fuel hazard reduction as a low priority. This study explored how householders perceived the value and risks of living in or near bushland and analysed the complex mix of hazards, risk, benefit and value perceptions that influenced the way they approached fire hazard.
The research team was from the University of Wollongong. Professor Ross Bradstock led the project, working with Associate Professor Nicholas Gill and Dr Christine Eriksen. They interviewed 65 householders in four fire-prone communities in rural New South Wales to determine their perceptions of forest fuel hazards and capture insights on the qualities in the natural landscape that they valued. These insights were combined with data obtained from comprehensive statistical modelling of fire risk and estimated probability of house loss within these communities.
“What we found was that people prefer bushland around their property in a condition which is relatively low fuel, which is quite open, and which corresponds with preferred states for recreation and aesthetics,” said Professor Bradstock. “However, most houses were exposed to adjacent fuel hazard levels that placed them at a relatively high level of potential risk.”
The study also identified a sub-set of residents who could accurately identify hazard, but who didn’t necessarily take action on their perceptions of risk. This was due to a variety of reasons, such as their personal estimation of the chance of fire reaching their properties and their competing lifestyle priorities, such as time, money and resources.
Fire agencies face two challenges in relation to this. The first is to deal with people who want to live among dense bush (either by persuading them to manage fuel or prepare in other ways). The second is to reduce the risks among people who are willing to do so but face some barrier. The solution here may be to offer practical assistance in managing fuels and preparing the houses.
As a result, the key to improving preparedness relies less on educating people about how to reduce hazard and more in assisting them to take action.
Amanda Edwards of the University of Wollongong studied the factors contributing to human/fire/land relationships for her PhD, providing deeper insights into the dynamic needs of different landholders, their experiences, perceptions and individual contexts. She focused on evaluating the Hotspots Fire Training Program, an education and training model for sustainable fire management practices.