Risk Management Solutions Issues Initial Report on Australia Bushfires

February 10, 2009

A report from Risk Management Solutions states that the current rash of bushfires in Australia is “one of its worst outbreaks of wildfires ever, with whole towns almost completely destroyed and over one hundred people so far reported dead. The bushfires have broken out across the state of Victoria, in the south-east corner of Australia, and have affected around 1200 square miles (3000 sq. km).

As at 13:30 UTC, Monday 9 February, there were still 24 fires burning across Victoria, 11 of which extended over 50 hectares. Most of the damage has been caused by the Kinglake fire complex in the northeast of Melbourne, which has virtually wiped out the towns of Kinglake and Marysville.

Domenico del Re, director of model management at RMS, commented: “At least 135 people [more recent figures put the death toll at 173, but it is expected to increase] have been killed so far by the fires, making it the deadliest outbreak of wildfires in Australian history, surpassing the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires where 75 people died. At least 750 homes have been destroyed, mainly around the Kinglake area.”

Authorities are investigating the cause of these fires, suspecting that some were set deliberately, while others were started by lightning strikes or discarded cigarettes. “At the start of the fires, Australia was experiencing a record breaking heat wave, with the highest temperatures since records began 150 years ago. High winds and low humidity have exacerbated the fires,” del Re explained.

Fires have also broken out in the states of New South Wales and South Australia, although no damage has been reported and they are believed to be fully contained.

The last major Australian bushfire was in 2003, when 500 homes were ravaged by fires on the outskirts of Canberra with losses to the insurance industry of some A$350 million (US$235 million), according to the Insurance Council of Australia. However, these properties were primarily in urban areas, compared to the current fires that are affecting more rural areas.

More detailed information about the fires can be found at: http://www.rms.com/ClientResources/Catupdates/CatUpdatePublic.asp?event_id=2770

Source: Risk Management Solutions – www.rms.com

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