Unfortunately there will always be bushfires. No matter what we do, fires will start from lightning strikes, human carelessness, accidents or arson.
If you live in a rural or semi-rural area, or a country town, you need to know if you are located in a fire-prone zone. Your Shire council will have maps showing where these zones are located. In a fire-prone area, the Shire has responsibilities under the Bush Fires Act to ensure that certain procedures, such as reducing flammable fuels, installation of firebreaks and building construction standards, are carried out and that there is a high level ofstandards of fire preparedness in your local community.
What to Do in the Event of a Bushfire
On becoming aware that a bushfire might threaten your house, you must first determine where the fire is and in what direction it is heading. Bushfire news is broadcast on ABC 720 at frequent intervals. You can also go onto the internet and check out the DFES website, which also carries current bushfire information. But be aware that the site may well crash if a lot of people have the same idea.
Once you know where the fire is and where it is heading, you can assess the level of risk you face. If you can see that you may well be under threat, then check your fire plan (you do have a fire plan don’t you?) and implement whatever measures you had decided upon.
Then, check on the location of all family members and decide if you need to fetch them from somewhere to be safe. If children are at school they will be a priority for fire suppression actions by the Bush Fire Brigade or DFES.
If you have decided to defend your house, fill up all your buckets with water, and possibly the bath also, while there is still water available. Block the downpipes and fill all gutters with water. Firmly shut all doors and windows. Turn off the airconditioner and close any roof vents.
Make sure your vehicles have the windows closed and are parked ready to move if an evacuation is necessary. Collect the items you had previously listed as being needed to take with you. Gather your pets inside, well dogs and cats, anyway. If you have horses, that’s a difficult situation and you should have decided what to do about them in your fire plan.
Do not rely on “the cavalry” coming to the rescue.
Of course, the bushfire will be being fought by DFES, volunteer bushfire brigades and in some places Parks and Wildlife crews as well. But they will have their own priorities, and you may not be one of them. You must be prepared to stay and defend, or to leave early. You will have no idea whether they have the resources to come to your location, and they may well be prevented from accessing your area by the fire anyway.
Stay and Defend
The decision to stay and defend your property will depend on three main things: First, whether your property is well-prepared to withstand fire and your house can act as the last-resort refuge; second, whether you are fit, strong and psychologically capable of withstanding the extreme stress of a bushfire situation; and third whether you have appropriate clothes in which to work as a firefighter (safety helmet, long sleeve shirt and long trousers, boots, goggles etc).
The recommended approach is to stay outside as long as possible extinguishing spot fires in the garden and embers falling on the house, and then when the main headfire arrives, retreat inside. After it passes you can resume your firefighting.
Dangers of a Last Minute Evacuation
It is very dangerous to evacuate at the last minute, when the bushfire is pretty well all around you. There will be flames, dense smoke and a howling noise and the situation will be quite confused. The fire may have already blocked the route you had previously selected. A single accident or break-down will produce gridlock, and the smoke will prevent you from finding out until it is too late and you are trapped. In the 2003 Victorian fire disaster, many people lost their lives fleeing at the last minute along roads obscured by smoke and with dense scrub on road reserves sending flames across the road itself.
You must think the situation through carefully before the fire season and set what you would do in your fire plan, so that decisions are made calmly, not in a panic and lacking information on exactly where the fire is at the time.
Support Your Local BFB
Your local volunteer bush fire brigade (BFB) is a vital part of the fire management team in your locality. They are your friends and neighbours who give their time (and risk their lives) to prevent bushfire damage. The vollies are always looking for new members, so if you are fit and have the time, consider joining them. They will always appreciate your support.
How Do Houses Burn?
The common perception is of a bushfire destroying a house in a blaze advancing in a front towards the building, which then starts to burn anywhere it is inflammable. That may happen sometimes, but the real hazard for a house is the ember storm from the fire that arrives well before the main front. The shower of burning embers, driven by strong winds, will seek out any crevice in flammable material and lodge there. A house with exposed eaves is particularly vulnerable to this. Boxed-in eaves are very important in denying a lodging place to bushfire embers.
Preparing Your Property
We recommend that any person living in a bushfire-prone zone seeks advice from your local DFES officer or bushfire brigade on how to prepare your property.