Bushfire season is definitely not the time you want to be learning how to create a bushfire survival plan. However, according to figures from Google Trends over the last 4 years, Australians are leaving it until peak season to create their strategy.
Having a plan for bushfire season helps ensure the safety of yourself, your family, pets and property, as well as helping firefighters. Our brave first responders and volunteers rely on people being organised, knowledgeable and ready to act so they can make fighting the fires their top priority.
If you’ve found yourself without a strategy, this guide has everything you need, including:
- What every bushfire survival plan should have.
- How to prepare your home for bushfire season.
- Ways you can defend your home.
- The crucial things to do immediately after being affected by a bushfire.
Feature image source: Sandid on Pixabay
7 Steps for Creating a Bushfire Survival Plan
Step 1: Know if your home is at risk.
While every person in Australia should have at least a basic plan for bushfires, there are some people who are more in need than others. If your home is at high risk of being affected by wildfire, you’ll need to have a comprehensive plan and ensure you reassess it throughout the year.
Your property is at higher risk of being affected by bushfire if:
- You live near bushland, coastal scrub, open grasslands or rural paddocks.
- There are trees or vegetation within 20 metres of your house.
- Your region has a history of bushfires.
Step 2: Create your emergency bushfire evacuation pack and list.
Bushfires can start and spread very quickly. In these cases, you may not have a lot of time to pack up essentials and get out. This is where having a pre-packed emergency kit for every family member (including pets) will help you get out fast with what you need.
In your emergency bushfire evacuation pack, you should include:
- Personal protective clothing to put on, include a wide-brimmed or hard hat, glasses or goggles, gloves, a mask to cover your mouth and nose, thick cotton or wool long-sleeved shirts and pants, leather work boots and wool or cotton socks.
- A few long-life or non-perishable snacks, such as crackers, fruit cups, muesli bars, etc.
- An overnight bag with a change of clothes and essential toiletries.
- 100% wool blankets.
- A battery-operated radio and torch.
- A first-aid kit.
- Spare phone chargers.
- A map of your local area marked.
- Paper and pen.
- A list of emergency contacts, including family and friends, your doctor, council and power company.
You’ll also need to have any medications and scripts, important documents (birth certificates, wills, passports, insurance documents, etc.), photos and any high-value small items ready to take with ease. If you have pets, you’ll also want to bring any essentials for them, such as food, treats, bowl, cage, lead and a blanket.
Step 3: Organise a household meeting.
Everyone in your household needs to be very well aware of the plan, including where evacuation kits and lists are located, their designated tasks and meeting points, if safe to go to them. If you live alone, check in with your neighbours about their plan for a bushfire
At least once a year, you should also run a fire drill, getting everyone involved in doing everything, down to preparing the house and packing the car. Then, you can assess how you could speed up the process, or make it safer.
Step 4: Learn the bushfire warning ratings.
During times when fire is expected or is an occurring risk, The Bureau of Meteorology issues warnings with ratings starting at low-moderate and escalating at Catastrophic (Code Red). The warnings will be released via television and radio towards the end of each day for the following day’s forecast.
Every rating will be accompanied by its rating colour, either broadcasted as a scale or across a map.
Green is low-moderate risk. Blue is high risk. Yellow is very high risk. Orange translates to severe risk. Red indicates extreme risk. Black lines on a red background indicates catastrophic risk. In Victoria catastrophic risk is called Code Red, and in Tasmania, they use the colour black instead of black stripes on a red background for a catastrophic rating.
Step 5: Learn what to do if you’re caught in a bushfire.
Fire can be unpredictable and quickly change direction or escalate.
What to do if you’re caught in a bushfire:
- Immediately call Triple Zero (000) and let them know of your location and situation.
- Drink plenty of water and cover your mouth with a damp cloth.
- If possible, be wearing 100% wool or cotton clothing with a wide-brimmed hat and heavy, durable boots.
- If available, cover yourself with a 100% wool blanket.
If you’re in a car:
- Park off the road as far away from trees, tall grass and other things that can fuel fire.
- The car should face the fire, if known.
- Turn off your engine, close your windows and air vents, and turn on your hazard lights.
- Position yourself and inform everyone else in the car to sit or lay below the windows as this will help protect yourselves against radiant heat.
- Do not move above window-height until the fire has past, and be cautious when leaving the vehicle as it will be very hot outside.
If you’re at a property:
- If safe to do so (but unsafe to evacuate), move all cars, farm equipment, portable gas tanks and similar away from the house, as well as move away flammable items, such as doormats and outdoor furniture.
- Always shelter in a room with an exit.
- Ensure you can see outside so you can keep an eye on the conditions.
- If possible, head to a beach, dam, river or cleared and ploughed field.
- Radiant heat can be blocked by solid objects, such as a concrete wall.
- You may also be able to take some precautions to protect your home (see below), but only do this if it is safe to do so.
- Have a ladder handy to access your roof.
- Wet towels and use them to block airways under external doors.
- Keep an eye out for spot fires on your property and extinguish them.
- Wet your hair or clothing.
- Enclose yourself in a water tank.
- Ignore instructions from service people, such as the police or fire personnel.
Step 6: Brush up on your first-aid knowledge and skills.
The harsh reality is, someone around you may get hurt during bushfires. In these events, it’s important you know basic first aid in case you’re the only person to help. You should also keep a first-aid kit in your home and car at all times.
We’ve provided some results for first aid training in your area at the bottom of this article, if you need to enroll in one as part of your bushfire survival plan.
Step 7: Calendar Reminders for Bushfire Season Preparation
Your smartphone could play an important role in your bushfire preparation. Take the time to plan out and mark in your phone’s calendar reminders who when you need to check and change the batteries of your smoke alarms, refresh your survival plan and prepare your home for bushfire season.
Then, when the time comes, you get a nice little reminder notification on your phone. Once you complete the task, you know you’ve done all you can for the time being.
How to Prepare Your Home for Bushfire Season
Inside the Home
- Install and maintain smoke alarms on each storey of your home, as well as in hallways connecting bedrooms and living areas, bedrooms, kitchen and living spaces.
- Keep an always-stocked first-aid kit in your home.
- Screen your windows and doors with a fine steel mesh.
- Have an electrician check your home’s wiring.
- Check all your plumbing, generators, pumps, etc. are all in good working order.
Outside the Home
- Regularly mow your lawns and remove dry grass, dead leaves, etc.
- Ensure your house number can be clearly seen at the front of your property (for emergency service personnel).
- Remove flammable items from around structures, such as any wood piles, garden furniture, etc.
- Trim trees and branches.
- Clean your gutters and keep them clear of any leaves or debris.
- If you have any gas cylinders, ensure they’re kept upright and the relief valve is pointing away from structures.
- Check your roof for any damage and make necessary repairs.
- Switch out your fencing for a non-combustible material.
5 Tips for Defending Your Home from Bushfire
The New South Wales Government advises before a bushfire arrives in your property, you should be actively defending your property. However, if you are advised to evacuate, you should do so.
1. Ensure you are physically and mentally fit and are not alone.
If the 2019/2020 bushfire season is anything to go by, if you choose to defend your home, you may be actively doing so for days, day and night. As fires approach, it will be hard to see and breathe, it will be incredibly hot and if spot fires occur, you’ll need to be moving fast, constantly.
With this in mind, you’ll need to be fit and healthy, not need to care for anyone with you, as well as have a companion who can take shifts when you need to rest and sleep.
2. Get yourself prepared for defending your home.
The CFA recommends if you are defending your home, you will need:
- 10,000 litres of water available to use.
- Radiant heat-proof pump that does not rely on the main power supply.
- A hose that can reach all the way around your home.
- Personal protective clothing, such as wool long-sleeved shirts and pants, wide-brimmed hat, a mask and heavy-duty shoes.
3. Prepare to have no access to water, power, internet or phone.
As fires near towns, you’ll most likely lose access to power and water, as well as phone and internet connections if towers are affected. In these cases, you will need a store of batteries for a radio and torches, portable power bricks for mobile phones (if you still have connection), have water stored and be actively ready to defend your home.
When you know you will be impacted by fires, fill containers, sinks and tubs with water. This will give you drinking water and added resources for fighting fires, if needed.
4. Patrol your home for burning embers and spot fires.
You need to be extinguishing any spot fires or landing embers as soon as possible so they do not quickly spread. Turning on your sprinklers can help with this, as well as using your hose to extinguish.
As the fire is approaching, also fill your downpipes and gutters with water. This well help prevent any debris within them from catching fire if embers were to fall in them, as well as give your home a little more protection.
5. When a fire is close, wet down your home’s exterior.
Before the fire arrives at your property, wet down any decking, timber and your gardens. Then, store your fire fighting equipment somewhere they are least likely to get burnt. This is also when you want to triple check you have ladders both inside and outside to access the roof.
What to Do After a Bushfire
- Stay tuned to local updates to see when it’s safe to return to your suburb.
- Wear protection gear, even when you return home.
- Contact your family and friends.
- If you have experienced property loss or damage, secure the premises, contact insurance, notify police, disconnect services, etc.
Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and should not replace advice given by emergency service personnel or government officials.