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Bushfire Preparation - Essential Guide

Bushfires are a fact of Aussie life. You should have a fire safety plan detailing what to do in a bushfire and discuss this with your family. Here are some other important steps.

October 2020 – 7 minute read

What’s in this article:

  • How to plan and prepare for a bushfire
  • When should you start preparing?
  • Help if you need it


 

Australian  firefighter responding to a fire

As unpredictable as they can be, being prepared for what to do in a bushfire can go a long way to protecting you and your property. Making a conscious effort to think about fire safety can make all the difference to your safety. One of the first things to understand is fire danger ratings, such as low-moderate, extreme and catastrophic, and what they mean. Use the ratings as a trigger to stay or leave an area.


Don’t “wait and see” during a bushfire. If the day’s forecast is catastrophic or there is extreme fire danger your safest option is to leave early. Try and either leave very early in the morning or even before,  at night when it’s cooler.   

How to plan and prepare for a bushfire

There is some bushfire preparation you can do early, especially around the garden and house (see more in this article). If you know you are going away on holidays to an area that may be prone to bushfire, understand the dangers and escape routes, where to go and who to keep in contact with for information on any situation that may come up – ABC local radio and fire and emergency services are important contacts.


It’s vital you are prepared and know what to do in a bushfire. It’s much harder to make decisions with a clear head when a bushfire is heading towards you or your home.


Bushfires radiate heat and this radiant heat is a killer. You need to know how to minimise the danger with protective clothing and identifying places to shelter.


Talk with your family about your fire safety plan so everyone knows what they should do before and during an emergency. There are two options: staying and defending the property or leaving early and getting to safety. Talk about what each option means.

1) Plan to leave early

Establish your meeting spots and your escape routes. Your fire safety plan needs to cover leaving for a safer place (perhaps relocate with family or friends). Write a communications plan – who to call, where to go for information, how to keep in contact. Save your contacts in your mobile phone.


Have a Bushfire Preparation Guide, such as our Emergency Checklist downloaded and ready. Think about how you’ll make sure everyone, including pets, stay as safe as possible.


Here are some ways to prepare your property if you’re leaving;
 

  1. Close all doors and windows, fill sinks with water and move doormats and outdoor furniture away from the house.
  2. Block the downpipes and partially fill the gutters with water.
  3. Pack food, water and your survival kit in your car, adding any final items including documents proving your identity.
  4. Turn off the mains to the gas supply.
  5. Take your list of contacts so you can tell them you’re leaving and where you’re going.
  6. Develop a back-up plan, including where you will shelter if you have not left early and it is unsafe to leave. This is a dangerous situation and you must know where you will seek shelter from radiant heat.


If you and your family know the plan and stick to the plan, you can avoid making potentially lethal last-minute decisions. A battery-operated radio so you can listen for information from ABC Local stations is helpful.

2) Only stay if you’re well prepared

Here are some things to consider;


Ensure your Bushfire Preparation Guide is ready and activated. Make sure you can get to essential items such as protective clothing and water sources.


Ring your state's fire authority and ask for an assessment or advice. Fire agencies suggest that  defending your home requires at least two able-bodied, fit and determined adults. You need to be physically and mentally prepared to work in difficult conditions for probably long hours.


Do not stay and defend your home if it's a catastrophic or code red fire danger rating day. 


Check online guides supplied by rural fire services and state emergency services for detailed bushfire preparation lists. Make sure you have plenty of clean water for drinking and a water supply to fight the fire.


Some other equipment needed includes a water sprayer, bucket, mop, shovel, torch and battery-powered radio.


Wear adequate protective clothing including natural fibre (cotton or wool or denim – no elastane) long sleeved shirts and pants; leather heavy soled boots; wide-brimmed hat; goggles and mask, such as a tea towel or better. Radiant heat is the biggest killer in a fire.

When should you start preparing?

Start preparing early. The fire season is starting earlier each year and lasting longer. It is also more intense than in the past. Here are the top things you can do to reduce the danger to you and your property.

Mow the lawn

It might be a chore but taking the time to keep your lawn mown can make all the difference. Make sure you also remove any cuttings as these can pose a fire risk as well.

Clean up the yard

Clear out any material from your garden that could cause a fire hazard – from wood piles, leaves and mulch through to door mats and even unused outdoor furniture.


You should also remove dried undergrowth and grass from around and underneath your home, as this is one of the easiest ways for fire to spread. A clean yard reduces the likelihood of spot fires.

Clear out the gutters

Leaves and twigs that have built up in your gutters put you at greater risk from flying embers. Make sure you keep your gutters cleaned out.

Trim overhanging branches and shrubs

Take a good look at the trees around your home and on your property. Trim any overhanging branches that could make it easy for fire to spread to your home. You should also trim low hanging branches two metres from the ground that are close to your home.

Move - or minimise - hazardous items

If you have gas cylinders on the side of your house, position them on the side of your house with the least trees and objects, and make sure that the pressure relief valves face outwards – this means the flame won’t be directed towards your house.
If you have any flammable fuels or chemicals on your property, store them in an enclosed shed. Ideally, they should be 20 metres away from your home, however if this isn’t possible, use pathways and gravel areas as fuel breaks. Gas cylinders should also be secured so they don’t fly off in high winds generated by fires.  You’ll also need to make sure that any trees or shrubs are adequately spaced to avoid a continuous flow of flammable vegetation to your home.

Reduce the likelihood of ember attack and spot fires

Some simple things you can do to protect your home from ember attack and spot fires include:
 

  1. Installing metal guards on guttering
  2. Replacing damaged or missing roof tiles
  3. Installing metal mesh screens on windows and doors
  4. Fitting seals around doors and windows
  5. Enclosing the space under the house

Check the water supply

Have at least one sturdy hose on your property that’s long enough to reach your house and if you have a pool – or a tank or dam – put a Static Water Supply (SWS) sign at the entrance to your property. It is recommended that you have 10,000 litres of water for firefighting purposes as well as a firefighting pump and hoses.

Check insurance

Make sure your insurance is up-to-date and the sum-insured amount is enough. It’s also a good idea to make sure you have your insurer’s details handy and know how to contact them should you need to.  Here’s how to make a claim with Westpac online.’

 

Download the emergency checklist:

Emergency checklist (PDF 1MB)


 

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Things you should know

No liability whatsoever is accepted regarding the forgoing comments and they should not be relied on as being determinative of the steps to be taken. The protection of your home from bushfires will depend on its individual circumstances and may require further measures. You may consider it prudent to seek specialist advice from your local authority and fire service.

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