“Bushfire risk is increasing across the country mainly due to higher temperatures coupled with lower humidity and higher evaporation rates,” Mr Leplastrier said.
According to IAG estimates, rebuilding a typical four-bedroom home in a high-risk bushfire area can cost more than $100,000 extra to meet upgraded bushfire standards.
Homeowners may not be prepared for the costs of cleaning up if they are hit by fires. The average cost for removing debris is $46,000 per house, rising to $68,000 if asbestos is found, IAG estimated.
Recent wet weather does not mean this season’s fire risks have been eliminated. “It may have been headed off, but it’s still there,” Mr Leplastrier said.
Meanwhile, the report by former firefighters said tackling long-term threats required greater transparency to identify what worked and didn’t during major events.
The dozen, boasting a combined 400-plus years in roles at the NSW Parks and Wildlife Service and as volunteers in the Rural Fire Service, said Australia “must do better in managing increasingly dangerous bushfires” as the climate warms and dries.
Ian Brown, one of the members of the Independent Bushfire Group responsible for the 179-page report, said many issues “were not getting talked about”, even at the bushfire Royal Commission.
These include the general lack of research into the most effective ways to suppress a fire, how agencies decide which blazes get priority, the poor performance of fire-behaviour models, and the absence of objective post-fire analysis.
“Things are getting worse and we need to review what we’re doing,” said Mr Brown, who has helped fight more than 100 bushfires.
The report comes as the Berejiklian government prepares to release the results of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry report, possibly within days.
That report, by former deputy NSW Police commissioner Dave Owens and the chair of the Independent Planning Commission Mary O’Kane, is expected to detail the increasing bushfire risks from climate change and the efficacy of prescribed burning to moderate those threats.
Mr Brown’s group said more planned burns to reduce fuel loads may actually exacerbate fire risks.
For instance, burning usually moist forests when conditions permit can alter their species mix, making them more fire prone while reducing natural fire breaks in the landscape.
“Analysis of vegetation across the landscape shows that the North Coast region has only 33 per cent of ‘treatable’ vegetation [or planned burns],” the report said. For the Sydney Basin, the share is about two-thirds, and just under half for the South Coast and Tablelands.
The group also took aim at the so-called “after action reviews”, typically conducted by the RFS.
“There is no public reporting, independent expert advice, objective research or outside oversight,” the report said. “Fire controllers report on fires they themselves have managed.”
Unlike for similar government functions such as the police and the military, the RFS “is both the lead agency and also the chief reporter to government on outcomes”, it said.
Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.