The requirement to comply with updated standards would bring financial shock for some seeking to rebuild, he cautioned.
“If you can’t get the space between your dwelling and the bush … you have to harden up the building to certain standards to better withstand the impacts of fire. We know that after every major fire event there are conditions and standards that apply to reconstruction, and unfortunately a lot of people through their insurance don’t factor that in.
“So if you are going to rebuild, you are not building the same $100,000 house that you built 30 years ago, it’s going to be a more expensive house, and then on top of that, those bushfire protection measures. So there are some real challenges when it comes to everyone contemplating their rebuilding prospects.”
More than 2000 homes have been lost in the state so far this fire season.
Mr Fitzsimmons said despite the “very noisy space” of the climate change debate, his agency had been factoring in the science for more than a decade.
“Climate change is a classic example where you can’t seem to have rational debate, you have got extremes on one side and extremes on the other side, and you don’t end up with sensible discussion in the middle,” he said.
“From where I sit … for the past 12 years I can’t remember a planning cycle where we have not factored in the sorts of things the science is talking about.”
He said a lot of areas had not burnt out and would continue to present “big risks … if we continue to have prolonged drought periods, significant moisture depletion with record-breaking temperatures, strong winds and dry air”.
Mr Fitzsimmons defended the volunteer culture of the RFS, which he described as a “critical part of the social fabric” and “a reflection of all that’s good in the Australian culture”.
“You think of anything in your community that happens well and you will find it’s underpinned by volunteerism, whether it’s in education, the sporting sector, the provision of health and care to loved ones, bush care, right through to libraries,” he said.
While he has welcomed the federal government’s recently announced compensation package targeted particularly at RFS volunteers who are self-employed or working for small and medium businesses, he does not want to see that morph into a paid employment model.
“I had volunteers talking to me [recently] … at a funeral and they said, ‘Whatever you do don’t let them go down the path of saying we are paid to do this work, because then we are no longer volunteers’.”
He said he’d got “pretty well hammered” in the mainstream and social media for that stance but “I was perfectly comfortable knowing that the volunteers were backing what I said”.
Deborah Snow is a senior writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.