As we brace for bushfire season, a University of Newcastle academic has warned cutting electricity during periods of high risk extreme fire danger could cause more deaths.

In an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia today, Dr Wayne Smith, Professor of epidemiology at the University’s Priority Research Centre in Bioinformatics, Biomarker Discovery and Information-Based Medicine, said cutting power to homes on high fire danger days could increase the risk to people’s lives, more than the threat of potential bushfire.

In his report, Dr Smith disagreed with a recommendation made during the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission that cutting power could prevent a small number of fires starting through electrical faults.

He said cutting power on extreme risk days could endanger people’s lives through loss of communications, traffic signal failure and disrupted water distribution. The use of air conditioners could also help prevent potentially fatal heart-related illness, he said.

“Deaths from heat outweigh direct deaths from catastrophic bushfires,” Dr Smith said.

“Power should never be deliberately cut off except to an area that has already been evacuated.”

The article was co-authored by NSW Ministry of Health medical adviser, Dr Richard Broome.