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  • Ellis Gelios

Virtual fire scorches SA residents' beliefs on fire awareness

An experiment carried out by the University of South Australia placing people in bushfire scenarios through virtual reality has raised concerns, detailing the lack of awareness residents have when bushfire dangers arise.

The experiment focused on individuals living in high-risk areas prone to bushfires, simulating a bushfire crisis which allowed participants to experience every facet of a bushfire aside from the heat.

The experiment – a first of its kind in Australia – collated the responses of 400 participants, with results painting an alarming picture for Australians as the country enters its bushfire season.

More than half of the experiment’s participants disclosed that they would improvise in a fire crisis rather than taking steps to evacuate premises or actioning a defence plan.

68 per cent of participants also falsely believed that bathrooms are the safest rooms to seek refuge from bushfire-ravaged properties.

The effectiveness of the technology was validated by the fact that upwards of 50 per cent of those participating altered their pre-stated positions and informed researchers they would likely pursue evacuation plans.

UniSA’s Professor of Environmental Science, Delene Weber, paid tribute to the VR technology, saying the importance of conducting VR experiments cannot be understated when it comes to educating people about the dangers of bushfires.

“Many of these people have never experienced a life-threatening bushfire before and have no understanding of how they would react or what decisions they would make under extreme pressure.”
“But lack of preparation is not a new phenomenon. Records of the number of bushfire fatalities in the past 200 years show that almost a third of deaths have occurred because of late evacuation and poor decisions.”

Participants hailed from high-risk areas including Gawler and the Murraylands in South Australia.

33 people and over 3 billion native wildlife deaths are attributable to Australia’s 2019-2020 bushfire season.

The experiment’s findings have now been published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction.


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