During a bushfire
If you live in a bushfire-prone area you need to have:
- a pre-prepared checklist
- a prepared and practised Bushfire Survival Plan listing what your actions will be in a bushfire.
During a fire, you and your property are at risk from several things, depending on the stage of the fire. To make your checklist easier to follow divide it up into things to do:
- inside and outside the house
- before, during and after the bushfire has passed.
Stage one – before the fire arrives
The lead time is highly variable, but a general guide is up to 30 minutes. During this time you may see embers, thick smoke, increased darkness and noise, it will also be hot and frightening. You can deal with these threats by:
- ember proofing your home
- preparing a clear space around your home that you can defend
- dressing in protective clothing and wearing a protective mask
- preparing yourself psychologically for the ordeal
- patrolling inside and outside the house, extinguishing any spot fires
- sheltering in the house if conditions become too bad.
If it is safe to do so – go to a Bushfire Safer Place.
A Bushfire Safer Place is a place of relative safety. It may be used as a place for people to stay in or as a place of first resort for those who have decided they will leave high risk locations early on a high fire risk day.
Properties on the edge of these locations generally face a higher level of risk compared with those nearer the centre of the area. The relative safety of these properties can be improved by property owners undertaking appropriate bushfire safety measures to ensure they don't place themselves and the greater community at risk.
Last minute decisions to relocate in the face of fire are extremely dangerous.
There are no guarantees regarding your safety if you choose to stay in a Bushfire Safer Place or if you relocate to one. It is unlikely you will be exposed to direct flame or severe radiant heat. You may be exposed to spark, embers and smoke which may start secondary fires in vegetation, gardens and structures.
Will you stay and defend?
If you staying to defend your property or are unable to leave, before the fire front arrives you should:
- Alert family and neighbours.
- Bring pets inside.
- Dress in protective clothing.
- Shut all doors and windows.
- Fill bath, sinks and buckets with water.
- Place wet towels in any crevices, such as gaps under doors.
- Take curtains down and push furniture away from windows.
- Place ladder in ceiling access ready to inspect ceiling cavity.
- Remove last minute combustibles from around the house including flammable blinds, wooden furniture and doormats.
- Start pump for fire hose and/or roof sprinklers. (Make sure to manage your water supply well, so that there is sufficient water left for when the fire front actually arrives).
- Wet down all areas on the side of house facing the direction of the fire.
- Dampen window ledges allowing water to penetrate any gaps.
- Plug drains and fill gutters with water.
- Wet down any pre-determined problem areas.
- Patrol for spot fires and extinguish any that start.
Stage two – during the fire
This is a relatively short period, but that does not make it less horrific. It will last from 5 to 20 minutes, depending on conditions. Although brief, this is the most dangerous stage and you should seek shelter inside.
If you staying to defend your property or are unable to leave, when fire front arrives:
- Retreat inside your home.
- Bring buckets, hoses, mops and tap fittings inside with you.
- Patrol inside for spot fires and extinguish.
- Check the ceiling cavity.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Reassure family and pets.
- Make sure you are situated in a room with two exits.
As the fire front passes you will be subject to radiant heat, which is many times hotter than air temperature. Take shelter until the fire-front passes. There may also be flame contact, ember attack and smoke along with loud noises, darkness and power failure.
- Radiant heat is many times hotter than the air temperature.
- The front of a moving fire radiates up to six times more heat than its back.
- Radiant heat only radiates in straight lines and will not penetrate solid objects.
- Although it may not set a building on fire, it can crack and break windows, allowing embers to enter your home.
- Bushfires radiate a more significant amount of heat than grassfires.
Bushfire Last Resort Refuges
Bushfire Last Resort Refuges are your LAST choice of location to shelter from a bushfire.
A Bushfire Last Resort Refuge is a space or building which you could go to and remain in during a bushfire in your area. It is an area that provides a minimum level of protection from the immediate life threatening effects of radiant heat and direct flame contact in a bushfire. It is intended to provide a place of relative safety during a bushfire. It does not guarantee the survival of those who assemble there. You should only use a Bushfire Last Resort Refuge when your personal Bushfire Survival Plans cannot be implemented or have failed.
Risks associated with Bushfire Last Resort Refuges are:
- Travelling to a Bushfire Last Resort Refuge may be dangerous. Traffic congestion, fire activity, heavy smoke, accidents or fallen trees may block the route
- There is no guarantee that you will be safe from fire or radiant heat when travelling to or sheltering at a Bushfire Last Resort Refuge
- Emergency services may not be present
- There may be limited capacity
- Bushfire Last Resort Refuges do not cater for animals
- Bushfire Last Resort Refuges do not provide meals, amenities or special needs (e.g. for infants, the elderly, the ill or disabled)
- Bushfire Last Resort Refuges may not provide shelter from the elements, particularly flying sparks and embers.
Vehicles in a bushfire
Being out on the road during a bushfire is extremely dangerous. A well thought out Bushfire Survival Plan is vital for all residents in bushfire-prone areas. Plan to stay with your home and defend it, or go to a safe area well before the fire is expected to arrive.
Travel in the country during the bushfire season needs to be done with extreme caution and vigilance.
- Always carry woollen blankets and a supply of water in the vehicle. Dress in suitable non-synthetic clothing and shoes.
- Know the local bushfire warning system and tune in accordingly when travelling.
- Be attentive to your situation and as you drive make mental notes of solid structures, including farmhouses, buildings etc that could provide safe shelter in the event of a bushfire.
- Look for sites that have well managed, reduced vegetation.
If you see a bushfire in the distance, carefully pull over to the side of the road to assess the situation. If it is safe to do so, turn around and drive to safety. Depending on how close the fire is, consider using a solid structure that you may have passed previously to shelter in while the fire front passes.
If the fire traps you
If the fire has trapped you find a suitable place to situate the car and shelter from the intense radiant heat. There is a whole range of factors that may affect your survival chances. The following guidelines may help to minimise the level of risk.
Positioning your vehicle
- Find a clearing away from dense bush and high ground fuel loads.
- If possible minimise exposure to radiant heat by parking behind a natural barrier such as a rocky outcrop.
- Position vehicle facing towards oncoming fire front.
- Park vehicle off the roadway to avoid collisions in poor visibility.
- Park away from other vehicles.
Actions to take inside your vehicle
- Stay inside your vehicle - it offers the best level of protection from the radiant heat as the fire front passes.
- Turn headlights and hazard warning lights on to make the vehicle as visible as possible.
- Tightly close all windows and doors.
- Shut all the air vents and turn air conditioning off.
- Turn the engine off.
- Get down below the window level and shelter under woollen blankets.
- Drink water to minimise the risks of dehydration.
What to expect as the fire front passes
- Stay in the vehicle until the fire front has passed and the temperature has dropped outside.
- Fuel tanks are very unlikely to explode.
- As the fire front approaches, the intensity of the heat will increase along with smoke and embers.
- Smoke will gradually get inside the vehicle and fumes will be released from the interior of the car. Stay as close to the floor as possible to minimise inhalation and cover your mouth with a moist cloth.
- Tyres and external plastic body parts may catch alight. In more extreme cases the vehicle interior may catch on fire.
- Once the fire front has passed and the temperature has dropped cautiously leave the vehicle. (Be careful - internal parts will be extremely hot.)
- Move to a safe area e.g. a strip of land that has already burnt.
- Stay covered in woollen blankets, continue to drink water and await help.
Stage three – after the fire front has passed
Many hours, sometimes days, after the fire front has passed, properties continue to be at risk from ember attack and smouldering fuel. You should extinguish small fires.
If you have chosen to stay and defend your property, after the fire front has passed you should:
- Return outside when safe to do so.
- Patrol for spot fires and extinguish any.
- Continue to patrol for 3-8 hours.
- Let family and neighbours know you're okay.
- Continue drinking plenty of water.
At all stages of a bushfire it is important to stay informed. Fires can threaten suddenly and without warning. Find information on:
- CFS website and social media
- Information Hotline 1800 362 361
- local ABC radio, FIVEaa, or one of our other Emergency Broadcast Partners
Do not rely on a single source for emergency warning information.
The CFS has a great social media presence informing you of current incidents, and spreading important community safety updates, warnings and news.