Burning issue for new homes

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Burning issue for new homes
A helicopter dumps water on a bushfire burning near houses in Victoria, Australia.

SYDNEY - Outbreaks of bush fires have destroyed homes in virtually all corners of Australia this summer, prompting calls for a fresh approach to building new houses, particularly in leafy outer areas of major cities.

In the past three months, hundreds of bush fires have razed about 300 homes across the states of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. The cost of the damage, including losses to the tourism industry and businesses, has been more than A$100 million (S$112 million).

The damage has prompted debate about whether Australia needs to change its approach to planning and building new homes and suburbs, and ensuring that home owners reduce their fire risk.

An expert on bush fire risk management, Dr Trent Penman, from the University of Wollongong, said government planners should avoid new developments in "areas where we already know bad fires occur".

He said the most populous state of New South Wales should stop developing properties at the top of steep, vegetated slopes which face west and bear the brunt of strong dry westerly winds.

"The places we really need to avoid around Sydney are areas which we know are most likely to be exposed to high intensity, destructive fires," Dr Penman told The Straits Times.

"A lot of the time, we are trying to (reduce the risk from bush fires) retrospectively, after we have already moved into these high-risk areas."

Bush fires are an annual occurrence in Australia, the world's driest continent. More than 80 homes are lost in fires each year but this is expected to rise as the population increases and as climate change is expected to cause more extreme and severe fires.

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