The mistakes you could be making this bushfire season

Katherine Chatfield
·Columnist
·7-min read

As bushfire season approaches, the key is to be prepared to save your home and potentially your life.

“Everyone in Australia who lives near dense forest, bush or grassland needs to prepare their property for bushfire,” Country Fire Authority’s (CFA) community-based bushfire management coordinator Fiona Macken said.

“Planning for bushfire season takes time, so you need to start preparing a few months before summer. Now is also the time to sign up to alerts from your state fire app.

“This ensures you’ll get accurate information from fire agencies to keep you informed of bushfire risks.

“If you have questions, contact your local fire service. No question is too silly to ask us – we are here to help.”

How do I get my home ready for bushfire season?

“Houses don’t have to be in the direct path of a bushfire in order to be damaged,” Ms Macken said.

“Embers can travel for up to 20 kilometres, and burning twigs and leaves can be carried by the wind, starting fires under doors and windows, and on roofs.

“Preparing your home can dramatically reduce the risk of these embers starting spot fires, as well as preparing it from fires that come close to your property.”

Flames engulf a house during the Gospers Mountain bushfire in Bilpin.
A house is engulfed by the Gospers Mountain fire in Bilpin. Source: AAP

The NSW Rural Fire Service suggests getting your home ready by doing the following:

  • Clean leaves and twigs from gutters

  • Install metal gutter guards to prevent leaves and other debris falling into your gutters

  • Repair damaged roof tiles or replace missing tiles to stop embers falling into gaps in the roof

  • Fit seals around doors and windows so it’s harder for fire to travel through gaps

  • Check you have adequate levels of home and contents insurance that is up to date.

Ms Macken said many policies don’t cover the removal of debris from a property or the cost of a rental while you rebuild you home.

“Check with your provider what you are covered for,” she said.

How do I get my yard ready for bushfire season?

Ms Macken recommends people minimise vegetation in the 10 metres around their property.

“Long grass, overhanging trees and debris in yards and gardens can easily catch alight, and add extra fuel to already burning fires,” she said.

A firefighter works to douse flames of a bushfire in Australia.
People are urged to prepare their homes for bushfire season. Source: Getty

How to make your yard safe ahead of bushfire season:

  • Keeping lawns short and gardens well maintained

  • Cutting back any greenery that overhangs buildings

  • Clearing leaves, twigs or any debris around the property or home

  • Clearing anything flammable such as barbecues, or kids’ toys from around the house

  • Get rid of mulch which dries out easily and becomes flammable

  • Make sure you have a hose that’s long enough to reach around your house

  • If you have a pool, tank or dam, put a Static Water Supply (SWS) sign on your property entrance – this means firefighters know where to find water

What should my bushfire plan consist of?

“The first thing to decide is what you will do if a bushfire starts near you,” Ms Macken said.

“Even if you’ve discussed this before with the people you live with, you need to have a new discussion every year, as your circumstances may have changed. It’s important to have a written bushfire plan.

“Nobody knows how they will react in an emergency, and people don’t make rational decisions when they’re under severe pressure. A written plan helps you stay calm and know exactly what to do.”

An aerial image shows fires burning near Bairnsdale, Victoria.
A firefighting helicopter tackles a bushfire near Bairnsdale in Victoria. Source: AAP

Leaving early

“Your safest choice is to leave early,” Ms Macken said.

“That means either the night before or by 10am. The fire danger ratings are indications of how bad the fires will be, and they should be your trigger.

“These have a four-day forecast so there’s no need for last-minute decisions. Nobody should stay in high risk areas if warnings are ‘catastrophic’ or ‘extreme’. No homes are designed to withstand these levels of fire.”

If you decide to leave early, follow these steps from the RFS:

  • Decide how you will get away. Which road will you use? What’s your backup plan if you can’t use that route?

  • What will you take with you? It’s a good idea to make a list of everything you will need so you can pack calmly. Include pets, important documents and irreplaceable items such as photos

  • Who will you call to tell that you’re leaving and that you have got somewhere safely? You need to keep people informed of your movements

  • What is your backup plan? Is there a neighbour or a safe place nearby you can reach? Neighbourhood Safe Places are sports grounds or halls that are identified as safe places as a last resort

How should I prepare my home if I’m leaving?

Even if you’re leaving your home, “taking some precautions before you go will keep your home as safe as possible”, according to Ms Macken.

Aa red sky as bushfires approach Mallacoota in East Gippsland, Victoria.
The sky turns red as bushfires threaten Mallacoota in Victoria. Source: AAP Image/Twitter - @brendanh_au

Follow these steps if you leave early and it is safe to do so:

  • Close doors and windows

  • Fill gutters and sinks with water

  • Move outdoor furniture well away from the house

  • Turn off mains gas supply

  • Leave the front gate open so fire trucks can get in if needed

  • Cut overhanging branches from the gate so fire trucks can gain access easily and quickly without being damaged

Deciding to stay if you’re well prepared

“Staying in a property when there is bushfire risk is extremely risky,” Ms Macken said.

“Consider whether you are putting anyone at risk by staying, such as children, the elderly, or people with asthma. Remember fires can be frightening. If you aren’t sure, or aren’t prepared, you should leave early.

“It’s not safe to stay with your property if the fire danger rating is catastrophic or extreme, your home isn’t constructed for bushfires, your property is not well maintained, or anyone in your house isn’t mentally or physically fit. There should be two adults who are physically fit enough and psychologically ready to fight a fire.”

Plumes of smoke and an orange sky at Batemans Bay.
Smoke covers Batemans Bay last bushfire season. Source: AAP

If you are preparing to stay, make sure you:

  • Have all the equipment you need, including but not limited to; water supply of at least 10,000L in a water tank not including septic tanks, hoses that reach all the way round the property, a water pump, and protective clothing that includes goggles and a P2 mask for everyone at the property

  • Know what to do before, during and after a fire

  • Give all members of the household a specific, age appropriate role

  • Have a backup plan – What will you do if the phone lines are down, if the fire moves faster than expected, or if someone is home alone?

How do I tell my kids about our bushfire plan?

“It’s important to bring children into discussions about your bushfire plan so they understand what is happening, and there are no surprises,” Ms Macken said.

“Use age appropriate language, and talk to them in a factual way about what might happen. Don’t make it emotional or confusing, just explain your plan, and why you’re doing it.”

The remains of a business in Cobargo after it was engulfed by a bushfire.
A business was one of the casualties in Cobargo during Black Summer. Source: AAP

If you need help explaining about bushfires, the CFA has several fact sheets for children to help them understand what to expect.

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