Bushfire threat

Bushfires are a very real threat in the Hills, yet many residents would have little idea about what it’s like to face one.
As the region becomes increasingly urbanised, more people move here from the suburbs where the risk of fire is very different.
At the start of each fire danger season the CFS warns us to be prepared – clean up properties, plan whether to stay or go and ensure there is a well researched plan in place with the necessary equipment if we decide to stay.
But there is a key component missing in our preparations to protect our properties from a raging bushfire.
Are we up to the challenge mentally?
For those who have never experienced a fire, it’s impossible to know how they will react to the first smell of smoke, the roar of flames approaching or the rain of embers onto the roof.
And yet that reaction could be the difference between life and death.
A person’s emotional response could be the thing that ensures they calmly go about protecting themselves and their loved ones, or the thing that sends them on a last-minute panicked journey trying to flee the approaching inferno.
Now UniSA researchers and the CFS have devised a way – using virtual reality – to give locals a taste of what it might be like if they decide to stay and defend their homes.
The bushfire scenario will play out through the safety of a headset, but will give volunteers enough of the sights and sounds of a bushfire to help them gauge their emotional response.
It is hoped the technology can be used to develop new educational tools which can be more widely distributed to residents in fire danger areas ahead of next summer.
If used regularly, the simulations may help participants build their resilience and give them the skills to more calmly enact their bushfire action plans in an emergency.
However, a comprehensive pre-summer preparation of property remains the real key to survival.
A well-considered and practiced bushfire plan is still the best line of defence, but taking part in the virtual fire study may give well-prepared locals the confidence in their ability to safely stay and defend their homes.