Comprehensive examination of the determinants of damage to houses in two wildfires in eastern australia in 2013

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Wildfires continue to destroy houses, but an understanding of the complex mix of risk factors remains elusive. These factors comprise six themes: preparedness actions (including defensible space), response actions (including defence), house construction, landscape fuels, topography and weather. The themes span a range of spatial scales (house to region) and responsible agents (householders through government to entirely natural forces). We conducted a statistical analysis that partitions the contribution of these six themes on wildfire impact to houses, using two fires that destroyed 200 houses in New South Wales (Australia) in October 2013 (the Linksview and Mt York fires). We analysed 85 potential predictor variables using Random Forest modelling. The best predictors of impact were whether the house was defended and distance to forest toward the direction of fire spread. However, predictors from all four of the other themes had some influence, including distance to the nearest other burnt house (indicating house-to-house transmission) and vegetation cover up to 40 m from the house. The worst-placed houses (undefended, without adequate defensible space, with burnt houses nearby and with a westerly aspect) were 10 times more likely to be impacted than the best-placed houses in our study. The results indicate that householders are the agents most able to mitigate risk in the conditions experienced in these fires through both preparation and active defence.

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Australian Research Council



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