Bushfires force rethink about how we live

An expert says people will need to change the way they live due to never-before-seen bushfires.
An expert says people will need to change the way they live due to never-before-seen bushfires.

Lives will change as bushfire seasons become longer and more fierce, a health expert has warned.

Australians are being told to rethink everything from health to housing as more than 130 blazes rage across drought-parched Queensland and NSW, claiming lives and homes.

It means people will need to change the way they live as the never-before-seen bushfires become commonplace, Queensland University of Technology environmental health Professor Hilary Bambrick says.

"In Australia, we've got this idea that we just rebuild after a catastrophe, and just put the same thing back there again," she told AAP on Thursday.

But communities are likely to change as catastrophic weather events force a rethink of where and how we are building.

"We've got to really reframe how we recover from disasters, such as bushfires," she added.

It could drive up costs for property owners and residents living in areas facing more fire risk, or lead to people migrating to other areas if insurance companies refuse to cover properties.

Prof Bambrick, a member of the Climate Council, said more consideration should be given to the long-term impact of bushfires on the mental health and wellbeing of individuals and communities.

This includes firefighters, who face physical and mental exhaustion when protecting homes during longer and harsher bushfire seasons.

"There's the immediate impact when there is loss of life and livelihood, but mental health issues can also extend into the broader community over time," she said.

Jane Shakespeare-Finch, a traumatic stress expert with QUT, said personal pain and distress was heightened by events like bushfire, but drew people together in the aftermath.

"Shared trauma often works to build communities," Professor Shakespeare-Finch said.

"There is nothing like a disaster to bring people together."

Extreme weather events bring increase physical health threats, with increasing air pollution likely to affect people who suffer from respiratory issues.

"We have to start being realistic about the costs of these events, not only these acute emergencies, such as the current bushfires, but also the slow emergencies like the long-term droughts," Prof Bambrick said.

"All of these things have a significant cost to communities."

"We need to make sure that we have people talking to volunteers about mental health," she said.

It comes as Queensland's former fire chief, Lee Johnson, declared climate change was behind dry conditions fanning dozens of fires across the state.

Mr Johnson, a member of the Bushfire and Natural Hazard Cooperative Research Centre, was among other former fire bosses in Sydney on Thursday calling on governments to take action to address climate change.

"I'm here for my children and my grandchildren because I am fundamentally concerned about the impact and the damage coming from climate change," Mr Johnson said.

"There's something going on, and climate change are exacerbating the dry conditions we are all experiencing."

Scientists have warned of the extreme bushfire risk attached to climate change for 20 years, Climate Council chief executive Amanda McKenzie said.

Australian Associated Press