Monday’s first public hearing comes after bushfires last summer ravaged more than one million hectares, mostly in the state’s north and east.
Mr Esplin said days of extreme fire risk were expected to increase by between 25 per cent and 50 per cent by 2050, adding drought and bushfires would become the norm and wet years the exception.
While fire response capabilities were vital, the focus must be on prevention and mitigation strategies, he said.
Fuel loads had accumulated over the past 50 years and prescribed burning, while not a panacea for tackling bushfires, was a critical tool, the inquiry was told.
"Prescribed burning is not without its own inherent risks yet it’s a critical tool in the firefighter’s tool kit," Mr Esplin said.
"Much research indicates that it can significantly assist bushfire suppression activities by reducing fire’s rate of spread."
Communications and public education were also crucial, Country Fire Authority (CFA) chief executive Neil Bibby said.
He told the inquiry the public had shown a thirst for knowledge during times of bushfire, with 53,000 calls logged to a bushfires information line last summer and the website receiving 2.3 million hits.
But some sections of the community were disengaged.
Mr Bibby said a new threat had emerged with the "sea change and the tree change" putting a large number of people and houses in the line of fire.
"We may have been lulled into a false sense of security, none of those large fires (in these areas) had the intensity or the speed that the Canberra fires had or Ash Wednesday had," he said.
"You add the demographics changes of the sea change and tree change and you see the potential to have a disaster which is significantly like Canberra."