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Asthma sufferers struggle to breathe while bushfire prevention burns cover Perth in smoke

Emma Wynne, Thursday June 8, 2017 - 13:44 EST
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Smoke from controlled burns has blanketed Perth in recent weeks. - ABC

An unfortunate side effect of the fire hazard reduction burning underway in the Perth Hills is that it fills the city with smoke, leaving some residents struggling to breathe.

The current cool, dry weather means conditions are ideal for prescribed burning to reduce the fuel load in bushland.

"We have been doing a number of small burns ... and we have had a number of days when the conditions have been conducive to smoke accumulation in the city," said Keith Low, state duty officer at the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPAW).

The had hit asthma sufferers particularly hard, according to Ian Craig from Asthma WA.

"We have mothers ringing up saying, 'I can't send my child to school today with the smoke, I need to keep him indoors'," he said.

"The effect on quality of life of people with asthma is already really serious, then we add smoke and you have another whole set of issues to deal with.

"If people don't take note of the fact that it is smoky and stay indoors and shut down vents, then they could experience an asthma attack and that could kill them."

Asthmatics want more warning

Compounding the problem for people with asthma and other respiratory conditions is there is generally little warning the smoke is coming.

While , the decision to proceed with burning is based on daily weather conditions.

And DPAW is also not the only agency conducting burning; local councils also conduct fuel reduction burning and private landowners in some areas are authorised to conduct burns in winter without a permit.

"There is not really central coordination on the day of burning about who can burn," Mr Low said.

When thick smoke blanketed Perth on the morning of June 1, the first alert was published at 5:00pm the day before.

'I lost a day's wage'

Asthma sufferers have they would like time to plan and prepare for the conditions.

"I had such bad asthma that I lost a day's work (and wage)," talkback caller Marie said.

"I had no idea it was coming so I couldn't prepare for it.

"Yes, burning is essential. One might say it should also be essential to warn people properly. From my point of view, breathing is also essential."

Listener Sarah added: "Simply telling people with respiratory issues to stay inside on the morning of, rather than giving us the heads up beforehand so we can make a plan, is not acceptable."

"Advance notice would allow someone like me to arrange with my employer to, say, work from home or make some other plan for the day to minimise the impact of the smoke."

A reprieve is coming

Mr Craig said he was working with agencies, including the Health Department and the Bureau of Meteorology, to provide earlier warnings.

In the case of the June 1 smoke, he said: "We should have been letting people know on Wednesday or Tuesday, the same as we do with storms."

"We know when they are burning and we know the modelling around the weather," he said.

"We need to get really good at predicting when this might happen so people with asthma adjust their living conditions and medication accordingly.

"We can predict this — we just have to get around the table together and make sure we are doing it.

"For some reason in the past we haven't got around to doing it."

In the meantime, those with asthma and other respiratory illnesses can expect a reprieve over the coming weekend; rain is forecast for Perth which is expected to clear the air.


© ABC 2017

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