Bushfire (rural)

You should never wait and see what happens during a bushfire. Leaving late means you will be on the road when conditions are at their most dangerous or you may not be able to get out at all.

The longer you wait to leave, the greater the risk to your life. 

Getting ready to go

  • Stay updated on fire information so you will know if a fire has started near you.
  • Move livestock to a safe area and put your pets in a safe place ready for loading in the car.
  • Pack personal items such as a change of clothing for each person and toys for children and pets and put them in the car.
  • If your car is behind an electric garage door, take it out of the garage and position it in the driveway facing out or on the side of the road.
  • Remove any materials that could burn easily from around your house, on decks, verandahs and pergola areas. This includes mats, outdoor furniture and wood piles.

Before you leave

  • Add final items to your Emergency Kit such as medications, prescriptions, mobile phone chargers, pet food and water for everyone.
  • Pack the car, remembering your most important items such as wallet, cards, keys, banking, medical and insurance documents (these should be easily accessible on a USB stick or in an expanding file).
  • Turn off the gas supply.
  • Block the downpipes and partially fill the gutters with water, if time permits.
  • Make sure everyone is wearing protective clothing – long pants, long-sleeved shirts and sturdy shoes such as leather boots.
  • Clothes should be loose fitting and made from natural fibres like pure wool, heavy cotton drill or denim. Do not wear synthetics.
  • Tell people you are leaving.
  • Close all doors and windows and lock doors.
  • Leave the front or access gate open.

Moving your pets

In the event of a fire, emergency accommodation at animal shelters and boarding facilities may not be available. Pets that are normally well behaved may also become fearful and nervous during an emergency. Part of your plan should involve prearranging with friends, relatives or others in a low fire danger area to care for your pets on fire risk days.

If you have to go to work on days of high fire danger, consider taking your animals to a safer place before leaving home. Keep in mind that in the event of an emergency you may not be allowed home for some time.

Horses

If you do not have a suitable paddock or clear area in which to put your horses, consider taking them to the local showgrounds, sale yards, racetrack or pony club.

If leaving horses on your property, do not lock your horses in a stable or small area, or let them out onto the road. Instead, put your horses or livestock in a large, well-grazed paddock, or series of smaller paddocks with the internal gates left open. Remove rugs, halters and fly veils.

People die during fires trying to save their animals. Decide in advance what you’ll do with your pets and livestock. Animals should never be left unattended in vehicles.

If you can't leave

Bushfires and grassfires can travel extremely fast and strike without warning. As part of your plan, you need to decide what you will do if there is a fire in your area and you cannot leave.

Inside the house you should:

  • Continue to drink water so you do not dehydrate
  • Confine pets to one room
  • Close doors, windows, vents, blinds and curtains to prevent flames, smoke and embers from entering
  • Put tape across the inside of the windows so they stay in place if they break
  • Shut off gas at the meter or bottle
  • Move furniture away from the windows to prevent any embers that enter the house from igniting
  • Fill bath, sinks and buckets with water for putting out any fires that may start inside
  • Place wet towels around window and door edges to stop smoke and embers from entering
  • Put a ladder next to the access hole to the roof space so you can check for spot fires.

If sheltering in a building during a bushfire, make sure you have a point of exit in every room used as a shelter.

Do not shelter in the bathroom as it typically has only one door out and a small window that is often frosted.

In a bushfire, it is critical to maintain visibility to know what is happening outside with the fire.

Other last resort options

If you are unable to find shelter in a designated shelter or identified safe place and you cannot leave the area, you may have to seek shelter in any available place such as:

  • Ploughed paddock or reserve
  • Body of water (beach, pool, dam or river). This does not include a water tank. Dams may not be reliable as their water levels fluctuate and they may be empty in summer
  • Stationary car in a cleared area.

Note: Cars are a very dangerous place during a bushfire. They offer very little protection from radiant heat. While such places may provide a degree of safety, they do not offer good protection from radiant heat or other dangers. They are likely to involve high-risk of physical and mental trauma, injury or death.

Given the high likelihood of death or serious injury in such situations, it is critical that you understand the need to do everything possible to avoid having to use these last resort options.

If caught in a car

Driving during a bushfire is extremely dangerous and can result in serious injury or death; always plan to leave early to avoid this situation.

Take the following actions if you encounter smoke or flames and are not able to turn around and drive to safety.

Position the car to minimise exposure to radiant heat:

  • Park away from dense bush – try to find a clearing
  • If possible, park behind a barrier such as a wall or rocky outcrop
  • The car should ideally face towards the oncoming fire front
  • Park off the roadway and turn hazard lights on. Car crashes are common in bushfires due to poor visibility.

To increase your chances of survival:

  • Stay in the car, and tightly close windows and doors
  • Cover up with woollen blankets and get down below window level – this is your highest priority
  • Drink water to prevent dehydration.

As soon as you become aware that the fire front is close by:

  • Shut all vents and turn the air conditioning off 
  • Turn the engine off
  • Be prepared: if you drive in bushfire-prone areas, keep woollen blankets in your car. This is an essential precaution during the warmer months.

Source: Country Fire Authority (CFA) Victoria

Bushfire Survival Plan

A Bushfire Survival Plan can help you make important decisions about what to do during a fire - like when to leave, what to take and what to do with animals.

Fact is, many people have died during bush fires because they've left their decisions to the last moment.

Ask yourself these questions:

Do you live within a few streets of the bush?

You don't need to live right on the bush to be at risk from bush fires. Burning embers can travel some distance, setting to fire to homes that are well away from the bush. In fact, the majority of homes destroyed in bush fires are because of what's called "ember attack".

Does your area have a history of bush fires?

Think about the area you live in. If fires have happened there before, they will almost certainly happen again. Know the fire risk in your area and prepare for it.

Do you have many trees or shrubs around your home?

It's a fact that a well prepared property is more likely to survive a bush fire. A well prepared property includes trees and shrubs that have been trimmed, and a cleared area where you and firefighters can protect your home if needed.

If you need to leave your home, would you need to travel through bushland?

If you need to travel through bushland areas to leave your home, you're at risk of being caught in a fire. Being caught in the open or in a car are among the most dangerous places during a bush fire.

Is your Bush Fire Survival Plan more than one year old?

Even if you've made a Plan before, check it and update it if needed. Sit down and talk about your plan with your family. That way, everyone will know what to do if a fire starts.

Make your Bushfire Survival Plan now.

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need a Bushfire Survival Plan. Planning to make a plan is not a plan.

Source: NSW Rural Fire Service

Further information