Sunday, 20 October 2013

Bush Fire Survival Guide

Bush fires are a natural part of the Australian (and other) environment(s) and occur regularly, but many people fail to prepare for them. When threatened by bush fires, people will often leave it too late to make critical decisions and often have few safe options left. During a bush fire, fire-fighters will be working to stop the fire, but the size and intensity of a fire could mean that a fire truck may not be available to defend your home. It is your responsibility to reduce the risk to your family and your home and take actions to survive a bush fire. The most important decision is whether you and your family will Leave Early or if you will Stay and Defend your well prepared home.

The majority of deaths during bush fires result from people trying to leave their homes at the last moment. Leaving late places you at greater risk of getting caught
in your car and suffering from smoke inhalation or extreme heat. In an area where a bush fire can start, leaving early on Catastrophic fire danger days is your only safe option. On any other day you should only Stay and Defend if you have a well maintained property and if you are physically, emotionally and mentally prepared to defend your home. This booklet will help you to make the important decisions that you need to make well before you are threatened by a bush fire. Your Bush Fire Survival Plan can help protect the lives of your family and will also give you information about the ways in which you can best prepare your home to survive the threat of a bush fire.

Questions you can ask yourself to check your level of risk
  1. Do you live within a couple of streets of bushland?
  2. Does your local area have a history of bush fires?
  3. Do you have many trees and shrubs around your home?
  4. If you need to leave your home, do you need to travel through bushland?
  5. Is your Bush Fire Survival Plan more than one year old?
If you answered ‘Yes’ to one or more of these questions, then you and your family may be at risk in the event of a fire.

Deciding: Leave Early or Stay and Defend a well prepared property
Not all homes are defendable, and not all people are able to cope with the ordeal of staying to defend their home. It is important that you consider your individual and family circumstances when making decisions about what you and your family should do.

Leave Early 
Leaving early is always the safest option. In some situations the choice to Leave Early is much more important. These include when:
  1. The Fire Danger Rating is Catastrophic. Homes aren’t designed to withstand a bush fire during these conditions. Any fire that starts and takes hold will be so intense that it won’t be safe to Stay and Defend any home – no matter how well prepared it is.
  2. You have not prepared yourself or your property to give you and your home the best level of protection from a fire.
  3. There are children, elderly or disabled people in your home. People who are vulnerable due to age, health, or any other reason, should always Leave Early.
  4. Your house is not defendable. Some homes are not safe to defend because of their location or, construction.
If you plan to leave then you should leave well before a fire reaches your area and well before you are under threat. You should listen to your local radio station for messages and warnings – but do not rely just on warnings as fires can develop quickly and impact on communities before authorities can issue official warnings.When you are preparing your Leave Early plan you need to decide on several important things, including:

What will your trigger be to Leave early?
Your trigger is something that happens to signal to you that it is time to leave. You need to decide on your own triggers, depending on your own situation. Triggers could be a range of things such as a Fire Danger Rating of Catastrophic or Extreme, or a fire in the vicinity of your home. Regardless of what your trigger is, it must be something that happens long before your safety is threatened by the bush fire.

Where will you go and will it be safer?
If you are planning to Leave Early then you need to make sure you are going somewhere that is safer. Places you could go might be a friend or relative’s house, or a shopping centre away from bushland - which isn’t going to be affected by a fire.
It is important to make sure that where you are planning to go to is safe and away from the threat of the fire. You can find this information by talking to relatives or friends, visiting your local emergency website or by calling the information lines. As a family you should identify a number of safer places you could go. This means that if the situation does change and you cannot go to your first choice of a safer place, you will have a number of other safe places you could go to.

Prepare your pets and livestock
A bush fire will be a traumatic and stressful experience for your pets and livestock. During a bush fire your animals will need water, shade and a safe place. You should always contain your animals in a well cleared fenced-in area. Never turn animals out on the road to run free. This is dangerous not only for them but also for firefighters and other people on the road.  

Stay and defend a well prepared property
Consider the following if you plan to Stay and Defend your property:
  1. Is your property well prepared and maintained?
  2. Are you physically and emotionally prepared to defend your property?
  3. Do you know what to do before, during and after a bush fire?
  4. Do you have well maintained resources and equipment and does everyone planning to Stay and Defend know how to use them?
  5. Do you have access to water fo firefighting purposes e.g. a tank, dam or pool? Town water supplies can fail during emergencies.
  6. Do you have appropriate persona protective clothing?
  7. Do you have a back-up plan?
You cannot just Stay and Defend without careful planning and preparation. Before the fire impacts... you need to be actively defending your property:

Outside the house
  1. Ensure you drink plenty of water so you do not dehydrate.
  2. Block your downpipes, (a sock full of sand/soil will help) and fill your gutters with water.
  3. Move flammable items such as outdoor furniture, doormats, hanging baskets away from the house.
  4. Gas cylinders should have the valve facing away from the house.
  5. Do not stand on your roof with your hose. In bush fires, often more people are injured by falling from roofs than suffering burns.
  6. Patrol the outside of your home, putting out any embers and spot fires that may start. An ember or spark can reach your home hours before the fire front arrives.
  7. Just before the fire arrives, wet down timber decks and gardens close to the house.
  8. Move any firefighting equipment to a place that it will not get burnt.
Inside the House
  1. Continue to drink water so you do not dehydrate.
  2. Confine pets to one room.
  3. Close doors, windows, vents, blinds and curtains to prevent flames, smoke and embers from entering.
  4. Put tape across the inside of the windows so they stay in place if they break.
  5. Shut off gas at the meter or bottle.
  6. Move furniture away from the windows to prevent any embers that enter the house from igniting.
  7. Fill bath, sinks and buckets with water for putting out any fires that may start inside.
  8. Place wet towels around window and door edges to stop smoke and embers from entering.
  9. Put a ladder next to the access hole to the roof space so you can check for spot fires.
Once the fire has passed... you will need to patrol your property for hours. Go outside and put out any part of your house which is alight. Check under the house and any decks as well as in the roof space. You will need to keep patrolling your property for many hours even when the fire has gone. An ember or spark can impact on a house up to eight hours after the fire has passed and small spot fires can quickly get out of control.

Prepare Yourself
Preparation is not just about cleaning up around the house and having a plan. It is also about making sure you consider your physical, mental and emotional preparedness.
A bush fire can be a terrifying situation. Strong gusty winds, intense heat and flames will make you tired quickly. Thick, heavy smoke will sting your eyes and choke your lungs. It will be difficult to see and breathe. The roaring sound of the fire approaching will deafen you. Embers will rain down, causing spot fires all around you. Power and water may be cut off. You may be isolated. It will be dark, noisy and extremely physically and mentally demanding. If you have any doubts about your ability to cope, you should plan to Leave Early.

Prepare your Property
Regardless of your decision to Leave Early or Stay and Defend, you still need to prepare your property against the threat of a bush fire or ember attack.
  • A well prepared home is more likely to survive a bush fire. Even if your plan is to Leave Early, the more you prepare your home, the more likely it will be to survive bush fire or ember attack.
  • A well prepared home can be easier for you and firefighters to defend.
  • A well prepared home is less likely to put your neighbours’ homes at risk.
  • A well prepared home will give you more protection if a fire threatens suddenly and you cannot leave and have to take shelter. 

Places of last resort
  • If it is unsafe to leave the area or Stay and Defend your property, and the path is clear, you should move to your pre-identified Neighbourhood Safer Place, or other safer location, prior to the impact of a bush fire.
  • Be aware that when you are travelling to your Neighbourhood Safer Place there may be heavy smoke and poor visibility.
  • Gather at the location and remain thereuntil the bush fire threat has passed.
  • Conditions may be uncomfortable and you may be affected by smoke and embers
  • Water, toilets and food may not be available at the Neighbourhood Safer Place and emergency service personnel may not be present.
  • Neighbourhood Safer Places are not intended for pets and livestock.
Remember, Neighbourhood Safer Places and other safer locations are places of last resort, meaning they should only be used when all other options identified in your Bush Fire Survival Plan cannot be safely implemented. Leaving well before you and your family are threatened by a bush fire will always be your safest opt

Survival Kit
Prepare an Emergency Survival Kit before the bush fire season starts. Having a prepared kit means having easy access to things that can help you survive a bush fire or other natural disaster and, will be in one handy location. This kit will help you regardless of whether you are going to leave or stay and actively defend your house. Some of the things you might like to include in your kit are:

General Items
  • Portable battery-operated radio
  • Waterproof torch
  • Spare batteries
  • First aid kit with manual
  • Candles with waterproof matches
  • Woollen blankets
  • Emergency contact numbers
  • Waterproof bag for valuables
Before you leave, add:
  • Cash, ATM cards, credit cards
  • Medications, toiletries and sanitary supplies
  • Special requirements for infants, elderly, injured, disabled
  • Mobile phone and charger
  • Combination pocket knife
  • Important documents, valuables and photos (in waterproof bag)
  • Change of clothes for everyone
  • Drinking water (at least three litres per person per day)
Remember to prepare for your pets as well. 
  • Make sure your pet is wearing an identification tag
  • Basket/cage/leash.
  • Any medications, dietary supplements, food and drinking water.
  • Familiar item (toy, bed, treats) to help reduce stress

Final note
This post was based on Bush Fire Survival Plan from the Australian Authorities. Please use this only as a baseline for your own safety plan. For more advice and information please contact your local authorities.


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Blog Editor and Owner: Luis Aparicio Fernandes (or Mikey) is a Business Expert and a Traveler based in London, UK. He is a member of The International Honor Society Beta Gamma Sigma due to his achievements in business. You can follow Luis on Google+, and LinkedIn.