Community Bushfire Preparedness


A Checklist for Residents in Bushfire-prone Areas


In rural Australia, bushfires are inevitable. They are a consequence of our climate and weather, our flammable vegetation and the constant sources of fire from lightning strikes, accidents or human folly. However, no two fires are alike. Bushfires can vary from a mild, trickling burn which is easily extinguished and causes no harm, to a raging inferno that is impossible to extinguish and which does irreparable damage.

The factors that determine whether it will be a mild or intense fire include:

* The weather conditions, especially wind strength;

* Fuel dryness and quantity; and

* The degree to which communities are prepared to resist a fire onslaught.

Weather conditions cannot be controlled. But both fuel quantity and community preparedness can.  Fuel quantity is the most important factor affecting the killing power of a bushfire. Residential areas adjoining bushland which carries heavy, long-unburnt fuel is a highly dangerous combination. The more fuel, the more likely a bushfire will rapidly become uncontrollable, will generate an ember storm, throw spotfires and do serious damage. Bushfire preparedness is also critical. A well-prepared community will be able to absorb most bushfires without loss of life or serious damage.

Good preparation will:

* reduce the intensity of a bushfire entering residential areas;

* make fires easier to control and safer for firefighters; * make it easier to save lives and community assets; and

* allow the community to “bounce back” after the fire, with a minimum of disruption and cost.

The Bushfire Front proposes that residents in bushfire prone areas utilise the following checklist to assess how well their community is prepared for bushfires and to develop (in collaboration with their Shire and DFES) a systematic program to upgrade bushfire preparedness and community safety. Our basic message is this: bushfires can never be prevented, but much can be done to minimise or prevent the damage a bushfire might cause and the cost and hurt of bushfire impacts.

The Checklist

1.Community bushfire leadership
1.1Does your Shire have a Bushfire Strategy (or ‘Action Plan’) which:
* defines and maps the main bushfire threats to residential areas;
* identifies community assets that are vulnerable to a bushfire;,
* sets out the measures the Shire will take to mitigate bushfire damage;
* sets out community warning, safety and firefighting arrangements;
* assigns responsibility for action; and
* is annually reviewed and updated as required.
1.2.Does your Shire employ one or more full-time staff members who are trained and experienced in bushfire management and whose responsibility is to oversee bushfire prevention and community preparedness?
1.3Does your Shire enforce the provisions of the Bush Fires Act which require landowners to remove bushfire hazards on private land?
1.4Does your Shire acknowledge that its bushfire responsibilities are its highest priority?
2.Actions in the event of a bushfire
2.1 Has the adequacy of trained firefighters been independently assessed?
2.2 Does the Shire arrange an annual ‘Brigade Health” check to help bushfire brigades judge how well they are equipped and operating?
2.3 Has the Shire set up local volunteer “bushfire ready” groups to promote, advise on and check household and landowner preparation for the fire season?
2.4 Have residents been provided with clear information and training that will help them make a timely decision to stay or go in the face of an incoming fire?
2.5 Has the effectiveness of information and training packages been tested?
3.Fuels management
3.1 Are bushland fuels (quantity and/or age) within and adjoining the community assessed, rated and mapped annually, and the results made public?
3.2 Does the Shire advise landowners that there is a maximum fuel tonnage allowable on privately owned bushland?
3.3 Does the Shire carry out, or authorise regular (less than 10 years interval) fuel reduction on its own land, including road reserves?
3.4 Does the Shire initiate an annual meeting between the Shire, FESA, DEC, Western Power and any other relevant government land owner to develop a strategic fuel reduction program for the year ahead and review past efforts?
3.5 Is a database maintained by the local authority of prescribed burns and fires?
4.Warnings and safety
4.1 Does the community have a bushfire warning system, and is it tested every summer?
4.2 Have ‘Safer Havens’ (non-flammable areas to which people can retreat and be relatively safe in the event of a serious fire) been designated and signposted?
4.3 Are ‘mock fire’ events held to test the community’s readiness for a serious fire?
4.4 Is there a community bushfire education program implemented in this community every summer?
4.5 Is the effectiveness of community education on bushfires tested in any way?
5.Schools and hospitals
5.1 Does each school and hospital (and equivalent institutions, for example nursing home, kindergarten, seniors residence, backpackers hostel) in the area have a Bushfire Action Plan with one or more people designated as responsible for preparedness and evacuation if necessary?
5.2 Are school and hospital bushfire action plans annually reviewed, updated and signed off by DFES?
5.3 Do schools in the community ensure students are professionally instructed in bushfire behaviour, fire preparedness, and action in the event of a fire?
5.4 Are school and hospital fire plans tested to see that they work?
6.Independent review
6.1 Is the bushfire preparedness of this community evaluated by an independent expert every three years?
6.2 Is the review tabled with Council and publicly reported?


Follow-up Action
The Bushfire Front recommends that a bushfire preparedness survey be undertaken by residents in bushfire-prone areas every year. It should be done in collaboration with their Shire Council and FESA. The outcomes and recommendations should be presented to the Shire Council and made public through the media and should provide the basis for investment in a concrete plan to upgrade community bushfire safety and maintain it at the very highest level.


Ember Showers

The greatest risk a homeowner in rural areas faces in a bushfire is usually not from a raging fire front, but from an overwhelming shower of burning embers. These embers can lodge in confined spaces under roofs and start fires that are almost impossible to combat. The safe thing to do is to eliminate sources of embers by removing any areas of wood chip mulch around a building. Even accumulations of leaf litter along road verges, similar to that shown below, can become a source of flying embers in a bushfire.