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Bushfire Survival Plan

Planning properly for a bushfire can help you stay safe. 

Updated

Raging wildfire

Bushfires are nothing new to Australia, flaring up seasonally for a few months every year. But this bushfire season has been Australia's worst ever, already having destroyed thousands of homes and devastating wildlife.

Nobody wants to consider having to flee their homes in the face of an encroaching bushfire, but if you have to get out fast, it's better to be fully prepared. This guide helps with when to evacuate, and what you should have in place to do so.

How to prepare

Given the drought conditions and sky-high temperatures across Australia, even properties that haven't been seriously threatened before are at risk. Careful preparation will prevent blind panic in the face of a bushfire and give you the best chance of getting out safely. When coming up with a plan (write it down!), consider:

  • Where you live. Different areas face different bushfire threats. For example, fires in the bush tend to throw dangerous burning embers into the air, while fire spreads extremely fast over open grasslands and paddocks.
  • When you will leave. What's your trigger for leaving, and when's best to go? We discuss this in more depth below.
  • Where you will go. Have a safe, accessible destination in mind. A shopping centre, emergency shelter, or a large stretch of bare beach are possibilities.
  • Means of escape. What route are you planning to take? Do you have your own car or will you need to coordinate with a neighbour?
  • What to take. Put your emergency kit together ahead of time. We discuss what it should contain below.
  • Who you will notify. Don't leave your family and friends guessing. Keep everyone informed to your plans in the event of a bushfire.
  • Backup plan. What should you do if things don't work out, or a road you intended to use is blocked?

This template from the CFA can help you create a clear written plan so you know what to do in an emergency situation.

When to leave

It's heartbreaking decision to make, but leaving your home well ahead of a bushfire reaching it is crucial. Follow official evacuation notices if issued, but don't rely upon them. Know:

  • Fire ratings. Fire danger ratings are your best guide. The higher the rating, the more danger you're in. Consider urgent evacuation for any levels Severe or above. The NSW Rural Fire Service has put together this video to help understand the ratings and what each level means.
  • Time of day to leave. For extreme fire warnings, it's best to leave the night before or early in the morning to avoid getting caught.
  • Fires near you. If fires are approaching, it may be time to get out. You can find constantly updated state-specific fire trackers for:

What to take with you

At the very minimum, you should have an emergency kit in an easily accessible location containing the following:

  • Overnight bag with clothes and toiletries.
  • First aid equipment and any important medicine.
  • Any protective clothing.
  • Spare batteries for important devices.
  • Important documents and possessions like passports, photos, prescriptions, insurance details, and so forth.
  • USB with any important digital documents or data.
  • Waterproof torch.
  • Candles with waterproof matches or glow sticks.
  • Phone and charger.
  • Plenty of drinking water (about 10 litres per person).
  • Long-lasting food for three days, including can opener and something to eat it with.
  • Wool blankets (for warding off embers and radiant heat).
  • Any special items that are needed by your family like mobility aids or pet accessories.
  • Emergency contact info - family, medical services, power company, insurance, etc.
  • A written copy of your bushfire plan.

When planning how you will pack your car, ensure you have enough space for your beloved pets. It's not pleasant to consider your house being destroyed, but think about and pack what you absolutely can't do without.

What are the main dangers in a bushfire?

  • Radiant heat. The extreme heat from a bushfire can kill you long before the flames physically reach you. A raging bushfire throws off great walls of heat that can cause heat exhaustion, dehydration, and fatal heatstroke from a considerable distance.
  • Embers. Bushfires tend to throw small bits of burning matter up into the air. These embers can cause burns on exposed skin or start small spot fires that grow in size, spreading the fire.
  • Smoke. As with any fire, prolonged smoke exposure can be harmful or even fatal, and strong winds can carry smoke long distances. Excess smoke or particle inhalation can lead to difficulty breathing, chest pain, and violent coughing. Those with asthma, children, and the elderly are most at risk.

Defending your property

Only stay and defend your property if you're 100% sure that you are well prepared and that you'll be safe during the bushfire. Remember that this is a risky option - leaving early is the safest way to protect yourself and your loved ones.

At the very least, here's what you need to defend your home if you decide to stay:

  • Sufficient adults. Fire agencies state that you will need a minimum of two able-bodied adults to defend a property.
  • A fire-resistant house. Some houses just aren't built to withstand extreme heat, no matter how well-prepared you are. Consider ringing your local fire service to ask for an assessment of what fire rating your house can take.
  • Proper equipment. In addition to protective clothing (such as masks), you will need a water sprayer, bucket, mop, shovel, torch, and a battery-powered radio. Fire agencies recommend a minimum of 10,000 litres of water for firefighting purposes, and a ladder to reach the roof.
  • Extensive preparation. This includes moving cars and other flammable items away from the house, disconnecting the gas from the mains, and turning off air-conditioning units. Wet down the house, fill the gutters with water, close the windows and put wet towels in gaps under doors. Most state fire services (linked above) have a fire ready kit to help you prepare - make sure you've read it.
  • A backup plan. Know what to do and where to go if something goes wrong. Have extra water and supplies around for emergencies. Make sure everyone has a safe meeting point.

Resources for those impacted by the Australian bushfires

Picture: GettyImages

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