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DO YOU HAVE A BUSHFIRE PLAN?

Last week our community came under direct threat from an out of control bushfire. We evacuated from our property and spent a very nervous few days monitoring it. When we were allowed back to our homes, the fire was still burning out of control (in another direction). The constant sound of choppers overhead, the smoke, sirens, our town constantly mentioned on the radio, tv, newspapers and social media, and the many frightening photos, were a constant reminder that things were still grim. Our little community banded together and did what we could to support each other. Fortunately it’s now controlled, and our heartfelt thanks go out to all the emergency services and our amazing Country Fire Authority who so selflessly put their own lives at risk to save our properties.

 

October is not generally a month we’re threatened by bushfires, it’s a time for enjoying our beautiful spring gardens and milder weather, cleaning up our yards and preparing our properties for the summer (and impending fire season) ahead.

If you live in or near bush like we do, or even among paddocks and grasslands, you must have a bushfire plan so that you’re very clear about what you and your family will do if a bushfire threatens. It will help you to avoid making last minute decisions that could prove deadly. Everyone’s bushfire plan will be different depending on individual situations and circumstances. It could also depend on the Fire Danger Rating e.g. my son’s school is closed on Total Fire Ban days, yet my daughters isn’t. Both are closed on Code Red days, therefore my plan needs to incorporate whether I have one or both of my children at home. It is also dependent on whether I’m at work or at home that day.

Developing your fire plan
The most important decision you need to make is whether you’ll leave early or stay to actively defend your home. Fires are unpredictable and can move very quickly, embers often travel well ahead of the fire, and smoke, road closures and traffic can all affect people’s decision making. Things to consider when developing your fire plan are:

  • If you evacuate, where will you go and how will you get there? Know where you will go, don’t ‘wait and see’. Relocating at the last minute is the most dangerous time.
  • Do you have children, elderly relatives, people with disabilities or illness? When, where and how will they be relocated? Who will care for them?
  • What will you do with your pets and livestock?
  • Can your home be defended? Is it in a location that makes it difficult or dangerous to defend?
  • Are you capable of defending your home without the support of firefighters?
  • Do you have the skills, knowledge and capacity to check for and put out spot fires after the fire front has passed?
  • Do you have the right equipment and resources to actively defend?
  • How will you stay informed about warnings and updates?
  • Will you cope with the noise and stress of a bushfire if you stay and defend?

Conditions can change very quickly in a bushfire, often without warning. You need to be well prepared regardless of whether you’re leaving early or staying to defend.

Preparing your home and property
Whether your plan is to leave or stay, you should prepare your home for a bushfire. A well prepared house is more likely to survive a bushfire than an unprepared one. Firefighters may not be able to defend a poorly prepared property.

Inspect your property and imagine a bushfire is nearby. Look for items likely to burn or places where embers could start a fire e.g. embers can enter through gutters, timber decking, into trees around your property and garden beds. Clear vegetation and rubbish from around your property to reduce the risk that burning vegetation will spark your house alight.

During a bushfire, it is likely you will lose power and water. Mains water pressure may drop or fail and as a result, if you’re staying to defend your home, you will need to have an independent water supply as well as a generator, pump and hoses able to withstand high temperatures.

Staying to defend your home is no doubt a frightening experience. You must plan for how you will actively defend your house, possibly without the assistance of firefighters, ensuring you have all the necessary equipment you need. Consider how you and your family would cope with the stress and pressure of such a situation, as well as the smoke, heat, wind, exhaustion, ember attacks, spot fires and radiant heat.

If your property is not well prepared for a bushfire, leaving early is the safest option. It's important that once you’ve made your decision (whether to leave early or stay and defend), that your family is clear about the plan and have a clear set of actions to follow before, during and after a bushfire.

What to take with you

We all have personal items that are near and dear to us, usually things of high sentimental value such as family momentos and photographs. There are also essential items to take such as insurance policy documents, passports, birth certificates, legal documents, certificates, prescriptions, medication etc. I also have a suitcase with enough clothes for each family member for a few days, as well as my laptop, hard drives (or other backup devices), iPad, chargers and phone. Keep a list of ‘items to pack in case of emergency’ somewhere safe so you can refer to it at the time of evacuation so you don’t forget anything important. It’s always harder to think clearly under pressure, so having a list will save time.

It’s really worth considering packing a number of essential and personal items into boxes and putting them into storage, either with family/friends or at a storage facility, at the beginning of the fire season. This will take the pressure off having to pack it all at the time of evacuation so you can concentrate on your family, pets and last minute items.

Keeping informed
In Victoria, there’s a variety of ways to stay informed, including:

    CFA Website
    FireReady App
    Facebook Page - facebook.com/cfavic
    Twitter - @CFA_Updates
    Emergency broadcasters: ABC Local Radio and selected community stations.
    SKY News TV
    The Victorian Bushfire Information Line: 1800 240 667

What next?

Whilst the fires are now out and the weather has turned cooler, it's easy to get back on with life and forget about the impact they had on our community, both emotionally and economically. The township is rallying together to assist those in need. The cleanup has begun, roads and trees are being cleared and affected residents have commenced repairing their properties and re-establishing themselves. Had these fires have started in a couple of months' time, they would've been far more catastrophic due to the drier conditions. Bushfires are a part of our landscape, there will be more. If you live in a fire prone region and don't have a current fire plan, now is the time to establish one so you'll know exactly what action to take if you're threatened by a bushfire during the upcoming fire season.

Disclaimer - the contents of this blog are my own thoughts and opinions. For more detailed information on preparing a bushfire plan, please visit http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/ or http://emergency.vic.gov.au/map#prepare-firebushfire plan, organisation

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