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Fire. Unplanned. Webinars


A three-part webinar series presented by Friends of Lorne, in conjunction with AIDA, on living in a fire prone region was run in 2020. The series, titled What’s the future of living in fire-prone regions? (FIRE. UNPLANNED.) ran over three dates and was much anticipated. It is nearly five years since fires engulfed homes in Wye River and threatened Lorne, and the images remain vividly in our consciousness. For yet others, the scenes of the devastation wrought during summer this year in parts of Victoria are still difficult to ‘unsee’. With the fire-season just around the corner then, it was not surprising that Lorne, Aireys Inlet and the many communities along the GOR were very receptive to the webinar series, which attracted over 350 registrations to each session – 1095 registrations in total.

Too often fires are thought of as ‘freak-events’. This series provided participants with insights that showed this far from the case. Unplanned fires are now more frequent, are often earlier in the season and are increasingly in previously unimaginable landscapes and places, such as Siberia. The clear message was that ‘change’ is our new normal and that what we will need to become expert at planning and managing change.

Six exceptional speakers took us on a journey that helped us understand some of these changes. David Lindenmayer [ANU] talked about the long-term insights into the impacts of and responses to wildfire in Victoria. He spoke of the large losses in bio diversity, about our actions in making our forests more fire-prone and among many other things, the importance of growing older forest.

Steven Farrell, founding partner of Spatial Vision joined David in session one. He addressed climate, in particular the increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfall and explained what these changes may mean for unplanned fire. His simulation models sketched a fascinating scenario for Aireys Inlet.

Monday’s sessions took us on another part of the journey, an understanding of human contribution to fire occurrences, with Janet Stanley (University of Melbourne). Janet shared the confronting statistic that 85% of wildfires are ignited directly or indirectly by human activity, such as through the malicious lighting of a bushfire, or through accident or reckless behaviour.

Kevin Tolhurst (University of Melbourne) then took us close to home, sharing case studies from the Otway Ranges. His statistics on wildfire history were compelling in understanding the special nature of our region, with 1,131 unplanned fires in the Otway District since 1972, with a loss of 89,273ha, being burnt by unplanned fire. He provided a nuanced explanation of ‘Fire Energy’ – the sources of energy that are captured by a fire. Often public discussions centre on the ‘available fuel’, but he enumerated five key sources; available fuel, weather, terrain, environmental moisture and atmospheric mobility in determining fire energy, highlighting the trap of ‘single issue’ discussions.

Armed with this newly acquired knowledge, (new for at least for most of us), we were better placed to understand some of the practical issues and challenges around community resilience and planning for our future. Barbara Norman (University of Canberra) shared a number of learnings from studies that grapple with risk, governance and management. In talking about skills Barbara says: “There is a capacity gap both in the professions and in community groups around the knowledge and skills that we need…” She underlined the importance of tools such as scenario planning involving the community, even if as she says, you think the scenarios are “off the wall”.

Justin Leonard (CSIRO), finished the programme by talking about what it’s like on-the-ground. He spoke of the urban interface context – the hazard itself, the design of the urban landscape and also the weather – before, during and after the event. Justin bravely tackled the subject of trees and their role in the bush, a subject that can be quite an emotive issue. He sketched out the arguments for them and against them…..and we learnt that there’s more to that subject than you would think!

A highlight of the webinar series was the discussion panel at the end of each session made up of local organisations in addition to the expert speakers, that fielded questions from the webinar audience. These panel discussions proved a great way for the community to participate and the Q & A board was rapidly jam-packed for each session. The last panel question referenced the Ash Wednesday fires, the question being “What’s different between now and Ash Wednesday – is it more risky or less risky”? The answers from the five-member panel were so very insightful………… you really must have a listen in order to understand our current level of vulnerability.

Community is the bedrock of both Aireys Inlet and Lorne. The speakers without exception, underlined the critical role community must play if we are to achieve best practice in navigating our increasingly volatile environment. Kevin Tolhurst was direct in stressing the importance of less siloed thinking, a less paternalistic attitude by government and organisations and a greater sharing of information such as information from geo-station satellite systems, 000 calls, social media and incorporating these into public warnings for the community, in real-time.

One of the strongest message from the webinar series was around the need for us to change pro-actively.

“The challenge we have in front of us, is to pro-actively change and embrace this idea that you have to become fully adapted to bush fire, before nature forces our hand on it….” Justin Leonard


This webinar series was an exceptional opportunity to set the stage for pro-active thinking as we lead up to the fire season. If you missed the series we encourage you strongly to watch it via the following YouTube links. If you watched the series, you might like to watch some of it again given the tightly-packed gems of information by the presenters.


Session 1 Video
Session 2 Video
Session 3 Video


IMAGE: Urban Interface – Credit Justin Leonard

AIDA would like to thank the eminent speakers in this series who, together with the panellists, so generously gave of their time and made the otherwise complex and nuanced material, so very accessible. Of course, a special thanks goes to Friends of Lorne for the excellent programme. We are also grateful to the super tech. team at the Surf Coast and Colac Otway Shires and to Forest Fire Management Victoria. This FIRE. UNPLANNED. series was an exceptional example of ‘community collaboration in action’. Thank you all.

FIRE. UNPLANNED. WEBINAR SERIES: This free webinar series has been organised by the Friends of Lorne and AIDA to help provide us with a broader understanding of unplanned fires. We will be asking the question: What’s the future of living in bushfire-prone regions?

The webinars will be held via Zoom on the 10th, 14th and 17th of September and can be booked at no cost via Eventbrite. Each session is of one hour duration, with two speakers at each session. Participants will have an opportunity to ask questions of an expert panel.

The webinar program will explore:

  • What we can do to limit future damage to natural systems and human communities.
  • Why fires start and why they spread.
  • What we know about fire history, whether history be will repeated and what the effects are on ecosystems and human settlements.
  • The last session will look at some of the practical consequences and actions that can be taken.
  • Who will be speaking?
  • This is an amazing opportunity for AIDA members to hear six eminent speakers on a subject that seriously impacts us on the coast :

10 September, 7:30pm
David Lindanmayer
Insights & responses to wildfires
Stephen Farrell
Trends, futures & extreme events
14 September, 10 am
Janet Stanley
The Human factors
Kevin Tolhurst
Fires in the Otways – Case Study
17 September, 3 pm
Barbara Norman
Coastal planning and community resilience
Justin Leonard
Managing the urban interface
Profiles of the speakers are on the Eventbrite event page.
This is a free event. Registration is through Eventbrite.

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Further Reading
Dark Sky Community
Ash Wednesday Remembered Website
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