Bushfire safety: Why you need an emergency plan now

A wetter summer for most of the country might be predicted, but that doesn’t mean you should forget to update your bushfire safety plan.

In recent years, we have all seen just how devastating bushfires can be in Australia.

The images of residents and tourists trapped in coastal towns during the 2019/20 Black Summer bushfires and animals fleeing fire fronts remain etched in our minds.

While higher-than-average rainfall is expected in most parts of eastern Australia this summer, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, that doesn’t mean the threat of grassfires or bushfires will dissipate over the hotter months, and it is important not to get complacent about fire safety.

Create a bushfire plan

A bushfire safety plan should outline what you need to do leading up to the bushfire season (such as property maintenance), the actions you intend to take during the season (including monitoring fire conditions) and what you will do on fire-risk days.

Your state-based fire service website will have detailed guidance on creating a bushfire safety plan.

It is important that all family members are aware of what the plan contains, that it covers different scenarios and that it is regularly updated.

We take a look at some of the main ways you can be prepared this summer.

Prepare your property

If your home is well prepared and maintained, it is more likely to survive a bushfire or ember attack.

The NSW Rural Fire Service advises there are a number of ways home owners can prepare, including:

  • Clean gutters of any leaves and twigs.
  • Keep lawns short and gardens maintained.
  • Have hoses long enough to reach around your house.
  • Repair any damaged or missing tiles on the roof.
  • Cut back trees and shrubs overhanging buildings.
  • Check and maintain adequate levels of home and contents insurance.

Have an emergency kit

It is handy to have an emergency kit packed and ready to go in case you need to leave quickly.

This can contain protective clothing, food and water, woollen blankets, a first-aid kit, phone chargers, essential medications and identification papers.

Pet owners should also have a plan in place for what they will do with animals on high fire-risk days.

Monitor fire conditions

The fire-danger rating and alert levels for bushfires are regularly updated by news sites and your state-based fire service.

Check your local fire service website, social media sites or app regularly to keep abreast of what the conditions are.

Plan to leave early

CFA chief officer Jason Heffernan warns those who wait too long to leave, or aren’t adequately prepared to defend their property, can risk their lives and those of firefighters.

“Leaving early is the safest option to protect yourself and your family and it means leaving the area before a fire starts – not when you can see flames or smell smoke,” Jason says.

He advises leaving the night before, or early in the morning of, a high fire-risk day.

“It means it’s easier to make good, rational decisions and avoid panic, becoming trapped and risking serious injury or death,” he says.

“Waiting to leave means a drive that normally takes a few minutes could take hours, or you may not be able to get out at all.”

Be holiday safe

With many Australians keen to have a summer holiday this year there will be thousands of tourists in regional and bushland areas – in destinations they are not necessarily familiar with.

“Whether you’re heading for the beach, bush or rivers and lakes, make sure you know what fire district you will be holidaying in – and which ones you will pass through along the way,” Jason says.

“When arriving at your destination, talk to locals and find out where to go if you get caught out by a grass or bushfire and are unable to safely leave the area.”

Holidaymakers are also advised to avoid driving through high-risk areas on hot, dry and windy days and to ensure they monitor conditions daily.

“Grassfires can move at speeds of up to 25km per hour, and jump highways, so stay alert and be aware of grassfires when you’re travelling,” Jason says.

Written by Erin Miller.