Student Spotlight: Belinda Young

Bushfire Prevention through Collective Action in California and Victoria

What is your research about?

My research is an exploratory study of bushfire prevention in Victoria and California from a community perspective. The root cause of most bushfires can be traced back to humans, be they intentional or accidental, resulting in some of the largest losses of life and injuries associated with any natural hazard. Surprisingly however, bushfire prevention is a very under researched topic despite being acknowledged as a crucial stage in bushfire management. This research explores community knowledge around bushfire ignitions, community beliefs on how preventable bushfires are and whether feeling a sense of responsibility towards a community contributes to collective actions. Both place-based and online communities (such as Facebook community pages) are of particular interest, creating new research opportunities into how communicative action online can be used as a bushfire preventative tool.

However, as a bushfire management phase, bushfire prevention does not only involve communities, but is considered a shared responsibility between a range of stakeholders in Australian state and federal policy. My research therefore incorporates the different perceptions and connections within and between communities and other stakeholders involved in protecting and preventing bushfires to see if a shared sense of responsibility exists.

Why is it important?

Besides the potential loss of life, property, economic disruption, human caused fires can have both a major influence on natural fire regimes and, in turn, a significant impact on the ecology. The fires currently burning in the usually ‘fire resistant’ Amazon rainforest are a perfect example of where climatic changes and human actions have resulted in a situation of global concern.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has projected (with medium confidence), that the intensity of bushfires will increase, facilitated by warmer and drier conditions. Research projects that the frequency of bushfires will increase to burn over 37.8% of the global land area between 2010–2039 if global temperatures increase by 1.2°C. Other research into annual mean lightning flash rates, estimates a 12% mean increase in the frequency of lightning strikes per °C increase in the US. As between 80‐95% of all bushfires in Australia and the US are ultimately caused by human actions, I believe it is critical to explore ways we can collectively reduce the number of preventable bushfires.

Which areas are most threatened by bushfire?

Those areas adjacent or near to bushland are arguably some of the most threatened by bushfire. This is particularly so in Victoria and California where these ‘peri-urban’ areas have experienced large population growth. Increased population growth often results in increased rates of bushfire ignitions making these areas the most vulnerable to bushfires.

How can people help?

This research is currently seeking participants in a survey which can be completed in hard copy or online. I am encouraging as many people as possible over the age of 16 and living in areas at risk of bushfire, to participate to ensure the results capture a true reflection of the diversity of experiences, expertise and perspectives on bushfire prevention.

To participate, please follow this link:

Complete the survey