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The editors at the Daily Yonder are as myopic as anyone else, so it was only when brush fires burned over 1,200 acres and 20 homes near our old hometown of Smithville, Texas, that we began reading about Australia’s “stay and defend” fire policy. After the country’s 1983 “Ash Wednesday” fire that killed 75 people, most trying to escape the blaze, the Aussies have trained homeowners how to safely protect their homes in a wildfire. The policy has been questioned after fires burned 1,500 square miles of land in early February and killed 210 people (above).
But fire researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, say the Australian approach should be adopted in the rural U.S. “What the Australian strategy does is actively engage and help homeowners to become part of the solution rather than just to need evacuation,” said Scott Stephens, co-director of the Berkeley’s Center for Fire Research and Outreach. “However, it should be noted that some California communities are so vulnerable that a ‘prepare and leave early’ strategy may be the only option.”
Even after the deadly Australian fire, researchers agreed that the “stay and defend” policy was fundamentally sound. Some communities in Southern California and parts of rural Montana are copying the Australian approach.