Ramsay Street style cul-de-sacs could become a thing of the past

Christmas in a strange country can be tough. That’s why last Christmas nine of us left our Melbourne base to celebrate together in the Yarra Valley.

The 90 minute journey on winding roads through the bush took us to Marysville, a pretty little village beloved of honeymooning couples. After our slap up northern hemisphere version of Christmas dinner and a few drinks, we went to explore.

You could pretty much see the town in 20 minutes – there was a park, a few cafes, a police station and a weather board church next to a babbling brook. Then darkness intervened and we returned to our cabin, vowing to come back sometime to explore the place properly.

Unfortunately, if I returned to Marysville today, I probably wouldn’t recognise the place. Ten days ago, the Victorian bushfires hit the town and wiped out all but a handful of its buildings. The confirmed death toll is 39 at the time of writing. Before coming to Melbourne, I knew that bushfires were a regular occurrence here.

In fact a Melburnian was telling me today that he can tell if there are fires blazing near the city because the light changes. But the severity of these fires seem to have taken everyone by surprise – probably largely due to the high death rate (200 and counting). Yesterday, I read a paper on preventing bushfires, which was printed before the latest ones.

It noted that very few able bodied people under the age of 50 have died in the past as a result of bushfires when they have stayed in their homes and implemented their fire plan. However, it’s pretty clear that many of those who died in the latest round of fires were defending their homes in this way. So what can be done to prevent this happening again?

In Marysville the town’s bakery still remains standing, despite the fact that most of the buildings were destroyed. That may be the result of pure luck (a last minute change of wind direction) rather than fire resistant building materials, but it’s still worth looking at these buildings to see whether we can learn anything.

Experts have warned that we need to rethink where we build things and what form these buildings should take. They say should avoid building dispersed housing outside of communities, which makes it difficult for fire crews to protect homes. And dead end streets with only one escape route should be avoided at all costs. So perhaps Ramsay Street style cul-de-sacs like the one I currently live in may become a thing of the past.


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