Bushfires are a natural part of the Australian environment and occur regularly, which is why it is important that you stay prepared.
You cannot control a bushfire, but you can plan and prepare for them: it’s a vital way to protect you, your family, and your propertyi,ii.
Steps and recommendations
Fire and rescue agencies across Australia provide guidance on how you can prepare for bushfires. The following tips are collated from the NSW Rural Fire Servicei, Queensland Governmentiii and the South Australian Country Fire Serviceiv.
- Clean leaves from gutters, roofs and downpipes regularly, and fit quality metal leaf guards.
- Mow your grass regularly.
- Install fine steel wire mesh screens on windows, doors, vents and weepholes.
- Move flammable items such as wood piles, paper, boxes, crates and garden furniture away from the house and other buildings.
- Enclose open areas under your decks and floors.
- Seal all gaps in external roof and wall cladding.
- When installing LPG cylinders around your home, make sure that pressure relief valves face outwards so that flame is not directed towards the house.
- Keep your backyard tidy, free from any build-up of flammable material.
- Do not deposit chopped tree branches, grass clippings and other materials that could aid a fire on your property, or on council reserves or bushland.
- Ensure your garden hoses are long enough to reach the perimeter boundary of your property.
- Plant trees and shrubs that are less likely to ignite due to their lower oil content.
- Trim low–lying branches two metres from the ground surrounding your home.
- If you have a swimming pool, have a Static Water Supply sign placed on your front fence. Contact your local fire station for information.
- Consider purchasing a portable pump to use your swimming pool or water tank water.
- On Total Fire Ban days obey regulations regarding barbecues and open fires and ensure to keep yourself informed of the latest weather warnings.
- Ensure your family know where the community evacuation area is.
If there is a community bushfire organisation nearby, consider becoming a member.
- It’s also worth checking with authorities if there is special advice for your locations.
In the event of a bushfire
Preparation is not just about cleaning up around the house and having a plan. It is also about making sure you consider your physical, mental and emotional preparednessv.
A bushfire can be a terrifying situation. Strong gusty winds, along with intense heat and flames may tire you quickly. Thick, heavy smoke will make it difficult to see and breathe. The roaring sound of the fire approaching will deafen you. Power and water may be cut off. You may be isolated. It could be dark, noisy and physically and mentally demandingvi.
If you have any doubts about your ability to cope, you should plan to leave early. Like with preparing your home, a few Australian agencies provide general guidelines on what you can do if a bushfire is threatening your home. Here, we have compiled tips from the NSW Rural Fire Servicevi, South Australian Country Fire Servicev, Victoria’s Country Fire Authorityvii, the Northern Territory Governmentvii and the Queensland Governmentiii.
- Stay calm.
- Remember that leaving early is the safest option. Have a bush fire survival plan, include in your plan when you want to leave and what to do with animals.
- Maintain contingencies and check if it is important to inform friends, family and neighbours of your plan.
- Don’t enter the bush if smoke or fire is in the area. Report all fires, ring 000.
- Check if elderly neighbours need assistance.
- If you plan to stay and defend your property from the fire, patrol the outside of your home, putting out any embers and spot fires that may start.
- Close all windows, doors and shutters.
- If possible, block your downpipes (a sock full of sand/soil will help) and fill roof gutters with water.
- If possible, block gaps beneath doors with wet blankets or towels.
- Collect water in buckets and the bath.
- Consider keeping valuables items and documents in a fire resistant safe or metal cabinet, or have them packed and ready to go.
- Comply with police if ordered to evacuate.
- Bring your garden hose inside so that it won’t melt in the fire and can still be used.
- Wet down timber decks and gardens close to the house if the fire is approaching.
- Do not stand on your roof with your hose. In bushfires, often more people are injured by falling from roofs than suffering burnsix
- Keep ladders, shovels and metal buckets at hand to help put out spot fires.
- Keep a torch and a portable battery-operated radio in the home in case the electricity supply fails. Create an emergency kit of everything important that you might need to take with you – include medicines and a first aid kit, passports and identity documents, legal documents, water, contact information and morevii.
- Drink plenty of water so you do not dehydrate.
- Move any fire-fighting equipment to a place where none of it will get burnt.
For more information, contact your local fire station or fire control centre. In an emergency call 000. The Tasmanian Fire Service provides a bushfire checklist for preparing your homex. You can follow the steps presented in this checklist (or search for a more regionally specific one that is relevant to your area) to make sure you are doing everything you need to give yourself, your family and your home the best chance in the event of a bushfire.
iNSW Rural Fire Service, ‘Prepare your home’, Plan and prepare, https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/plan-and-prepare/prepare-your-property, viewed 21 August, 2018.
ii NSW Rural Fire Service, A Guide to developing a bushfire evacuation plan’, https://icrtourism.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/8_RFS_guide-for-evacuation-plan.pdf, viewed 23 August, 2018.
iii Queensland Government, ‘Preparing your home for a bushfire’, Safety, https://www.qld.gov.au/emergency/safety/prepare-home, viewed 21 August, 2018.
iv South Australian Country Fire Service, ‘Prepare your home and property’, Prepare for a fire, https://www.cfs.sa.gov.au/site/prepare_for_a_fire/prepare_your_home_and_property.jsp, viewed 21 August, 2018.
v South Australian Country Fire Service, ‘Preparing yourself for a bushfire – physical and emotional preparation’, Prepare for a fire, https://www.cfs.sa.gov.au/site/prepare_for_a_fire/preparing_yourself_for_a_bushfire.jsp, viewed 21 August, 2018.
vi NSW Rural Fire Service, ‘Prepare yourself and family’, Plan and prepare, https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/plan-and-prepare/prepare-your-family, viewed 21 August, 2018.
vii Country Fire Authority, ‘What to take with you’, Plan & prepare for fires, https://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/plan-prepare/what-to-take-with-you, viewed 21 August, 2018.
viii Northern Territory Government, ‘Survival plans’, SecureNT, https://securent.nt.gov.au/prepare-for-an-emergency/bushfires/survival-plans, viewed 21 August, 2018.
xi NSW Rural Fire Service 2012, ‘Bush Fire Myths – Knowing the facts may save your life’, https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/3115/Bush-Fire-Myths-Factsheet.pdf, viewed 28 August, 2018.
x Tasmania Fire Service, ‘Bushfire checklist’, Tasmania Government, https://www.bushfirereadyneighbourhoods.tas.gov.au/sites/default/files/property-prep/attachments/bushfire_checklist.pdf, viewed 21 August, 2018.