How to Create a Bushfire Safety Plan for You and Your Family

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According to the Bureau of Meteorology, while bushfires can happen at any time of the year in Australia, the dry summer months are the most dangerous time for southern Australia, while northern Australia is at risk during winter.

When the grass dries out, this brings an increased risk of fast-moving grass fires. According to ACT Emergency Services Agency’s website, when the weather is hot and dry, there is more likelihood for a bushfire to start and spread fast. Most bushfires begin in the afternoon, usually the hottest and driest part of the day. 

It is crucial to understand bushfires and to prepare with a bushfire safety plan just in case one does strike, to protect yourself, your family and your property. You may not be able to think clearly in such an emergency, so discuss this plan with your household, have this written up and kept in a designated place in the home to access when needed.

Preparing your home

You can take steps to prepare your home before bushfire season so that there is minimal damage and more chance that your home will survive. Clearing the area around your home will make it easier and give them a safe area for firefighters to defend. Finally, it preparing your home can help protect you as much as possible, in case you can’t leave early as planned.

These are the five top actions as shared by NSW Rural Fire Safety:

  • Trim overhanging trees and shrubs.
  • Mow grass and remove the cuttings.
  • Remove material that can burn around your home such as door mats, wood piles, and outdoor furniture.
  • Clear debris and leaves from the gutters surrounding your home. Burning embers can set your home on fire.
  • Prepare a sturdy hose that will reach all around your home. Ensure you have a reliable source of water (pool, tank, dam) and a diesel/petrol pump available.

The Country Fire Authority (CFA) also advises the following for your property in their Fire Ready Kit booklet:

  • Keep grass cut to 10cm or less
  • Don’t have flammable materials surrounding the home. Use non-flammable mulch alternatives in the garden, such as pebbles and rocks. This is fire fuel that can ignite during an ember attack.
  • Do not have large shrubs next to or under windows.
  • Consider storing your irreplaceable family keepsakes and valuables in a safe location (like a fireproof safe) and moving these out of the area during summer.

CFA also recommends the following:

  • Turning off the gas supply.
  • Blocking the downpipes and partially filling the gutters with water, if time permits.
  • Leaving your front or access gate open for emergency services to access

NSW Rural Fire Service Leave Early Actions Checklist also offer these steps to take when you have decided you will be leaving:

  • Close doors, windows and vents.
  • Fill baths, sinks, buckets and bins with water.
  • Soak towels and rugs and lay them across external doorways.
  • Move furniture away from windows.

Getting ready to act

Stay informed

Keep a listen and watch out for media updates especially on hot, dry, windy days. Monitor conditions.

Decide and agree when you will leave

Leaving early is the safest option in the event of an approaching bushfire. On CFA’s ‘Leaving Early Bushfire Survival Template’, ‘Leaving early’ means being away from high-risk areas before there are any signs of fire. It’s important to know that this does not mean waiting for an official warning, siren, or seeing or smelling smoke. Don’t expect a fire truck to arrive. Fires can spread quickly and it may be too late if you leave it too long.

Decide and agree with others in your home when you will leave. This should be based on the Fire Danger rating. On 'Catastrophic' days, you should not be in a bushfire risk area and leave early.

Decide where you will go

It’s important to leave early, as driving during a bushfire is extremely dangerous and can result in serious injury or death.

Driving to get out may take longer due to road closures, smoke, and traffic jams. Identity more than one route as bushfires can close roads at short notice.

The CFA suggest the following evacuation options near you, if you didn’t leave early and you cannot leave the high-risk area:

  • Another, safer home near you, such as a neighbour's.
  • A private bushfire shelter that meets current regulations.
  • Designated community fire refuge.

If those options are not available, try to seek shelter in one of the below:

  • Bushfire Place of Last Resort (Neighbourhood Safer Place).
  • Stationary car in a clear area.
  • Ploughed paddock or reserve.
  • Body of water (i.e. beach, swimming pool, dam, river, etc).

A word on staying

If you make the decision to defend your home, you risk being seriously injured, suffering psychological trauma or dying. CFA has a Fire Ready Kit you can read, and you should also seek advice from your local brigade or state fire authority before planning to defend your property.

Prepare to evacuate

Ensure you have an emergency kit stored in a waterproof container that is easily accessible and make sure everyone in the home knows where it is.

What to pack in case of evacuation

Here are items to include in the kit to take with you in case of a fire evacuation:

  • Portable battery-operated radio
  • Waterproof torch
  • Spare batteries
  • Medications and toiletries
  • First aid kit
  • Emergency contact numbers (including your doctor, local hospital, chemist, vet, local council)
  • Food and water
  • Protective clothing
  • Identification papers
  • Woollen blankets
  • Emergency contact numbers
  • Drinking water
  • Woollen blankets for protection in case you get caught in the car

Additional items upon leaving

Make a list of the following items to place near the emergency kit. Take these with you as well upon leaving:

  • Cash, ATM cards, credit cards
  • Special requirements for infants, elderly, injured, or disabled people
  • Mobile phone and charger
  • Change of clothes for everyone

Pets

Plan for your pet’s safety too, to prevent putting yourself in danger trying to save your animals.

Wear protective clothing

No matter what your evacuation pan is, it's recommended to wear loose-fitting long pants, long-sleeved shirts and sturdy shoes, preferably leather boots. Clothes should be natural fibres such as pure wool, heavy cotton drill or denim. No synthetic clothing.

Tracey Cheung
Written by
Tracey Cheung

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