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Australia's stay and defend approach: up in smoke?

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With 200 feared dead and entire towns declared arson crime scenes, Australians are trying to determine if anything could have been done to prevent the loss of so much life and land. The country's policy of allowing rural residents to stay and defend their homes during wildfires is already under close scrutiny.

While some of the fires are contained, firefighters are still battling flames north of Melbourne. In addition to the grim death toll, about 5,000 people have been left homeless and roughly 1,351 square miles (roughly the area of Rhode Island) have burned since last week.

Many of those killed were attempting to protect their homes or were too late to leave and died while trying to outrun the fires in their vehicles, according to our recent story on the devastating fires. Experts told us they're taking another look at the "stay and defend" approach, which became common practice throughout Australia after 1983, when 75 people were killed in the worst fires to date at the time.

"There is nothing to suggest at this stage that the stay and defend approach has failed," Naomi Brown, chief executive officer for the Australasian Fire Authorities Council told the Monitor's Lindsey Arkley in our recent story. "The fire conditions on Saturday were unprecedented in terms of their size, speed, and ferocity, but we need to conduct an analysis of whether people should be given different advice."

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