Unfortunately Australia is rapidly developing expertise in what works and what doesn’t when it comes to bushfires. We, closely followed by California, are right in the front lines when it comes to a warmer and dryer planet, so here are some hints. I’ve taken most of these from the South Australian Country Fire Service pages because theirs are very comprehensive, but do check what your local community is doing too especially with regard to Evacuation Centres or Safe Places.
Long before a fire
- Clear away rubbish and long grass, make sure there are no trees close to the house. Clear gutters and put in quality metal leaf guards
- Fit fine mesh screens on doors and windows as it is often embers from fires which cause houses to burn down. One bushfire which I saw from ten kilometres away still carried smoke and burning debris to the place where I was staying. Bushfires generate their own weather.
- Make that Fire Plan. How will you get away?
Alternative routes in case the road is blocked by fallen trees or power lines? What will you take? Make sure the whole family understands
it. Use drawings at eye level so that children can follow it too. Let them help.
Do a practice run. Who does what? How long does it take? Now imagine doing it
in thick smoke, in darkness and or with embers falling, intense heat and fire roaring in your
- Make sure everyone knows where there nearest Safer Place is – it could be a school or an open area such as a sporting field. Ask your council. There are Community Fire Plans for most areas
- Have someone everyone can ring -a relative or a friend, in case you get separated and make sure everyone has that phone number, either on their phone or written down. Sometimes local lines and towers will be down or too busy with emergency calls, so an interstate person is best.
- Make copies of all important documents such as driver’s licences, passports, land titles, social security and insurance papers and either put into your evacuation bag or put them on a USB stick and keep it with you
- Have an evacuation bag ready with water, snacks, a change of clothes, toiletries, a first aid kit including any medication, a torch, a phone and charger and possibly a blanket or two. The latter should be made of wool because wool not only keeps you warm, but will offer some protection in the event that you have to pass through a fire front
- You may also want to include say, a favourite toy or pillow for each child and perhaps a colouring book or pencils to keep them occupied.
- Have a bag for work too and one for the car, especially if you are on the road a lot. If you travel the same route often, keep your eye open for places where you could shelter in the event of a fire.
- Think about how you will deal with pets or farm animals as some shelters won’t take them.
- Make sure you have enough fuel for an emergency and some cash for necessities in case ATMS won't work
- Check on singles and people who are isolated to make sure they have plans too and are not left behind
- Let the fire service know if you have a swimming pool or dam from which they can take water if necessary. See other specialist advice for farmers below
Listen closely to the Weather Bureau for any
warnings regarding the weather. Do not light any fires on days of total fire
ban and head warnings. The
fire service in your area will know of any fires already in progress in
your area. If possible leave well before they reach you and stay
the ABC for news about road closures, power outages or traffic
congestion. If possible send family members - especially children and
the elderly to less vulnerable places, well ahead of an outbreak
In a Fire
If you don’t manage to get away beforehand, fill gutters, baths and sinks with water before the fire reaches you. Wet down the house on the side on which you expect the fire. Remove flammable objects such as shade sails and outdoor furniture and have a hose ready to put out spot fires.
Because radiant heat can burn you well ahead of a fire, always dress in long sleeves and long trousers, wear boots and cover your head. Clothing should be made of natural materials such as wool or cotton as sysnthetics can melt and stick to your skin. Try to get behind something solid such as rocks or walls to deflect as much heat as possible. Wear a mask such as the P2 to protect you from smoke inhalation, or breathe through a wet cloth. Use wet towels to close gaps under doors and stay away from windows because they might explode.
When the fire does hit, lie down on the floor until it passes and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
If you are in a car when the fire hits, pull off the road, put on your headlights to warn other cars of your presence – it gets very dark and smoky, and get down as low as you can, again using a wet cloth over your mouth and nose if you don’t have a mask and cover yourself with that blanket if you have one. Tyres may melt, interiors may smoke, but the petrol tank is unlikely to explode. Don't leave your car because it will offer better protection from radiant heat
After a Fire
Don’t enter an area where there has been a bushfire until you have the all clear from Firemen, State Emergency Services, Police or other authorised people. Buildings and structures such as chimneys may be unstable, some materials may still be burning or there may be live wires.
For much more detail on this topic see the full text here,or consult your local fire authority.