Dear Lifehacker, I live in regional NSW in an area that’s prone to bushfires. I read that the dry winter that we’ve just had will leave the area I live in with an above average risk of bushfires this season. I’ve cleaned my gutters and cut back the trees but what else should I do? Is there any way I can stay in my house during a bushfire? Cheers, (We Didn’t Start The) Fire Safety
Let me preface this by saying: Lifehacker is not the NSW Rural Fire Service. Thus, the first thing to do is direct you to their website – here – which provides up to date tips on preparing your home for bushfire season.
You said that you’ve cleaned your gutters and cut back trees, which is a great start, but there are plenty more tips available on the Rural Fire Service’s website.
Conflagrations burn hectares of bushland and clearing gutters and cutting back trees is an excellent start but sticks, twigs, embers and leaves can be carried via the wind directly onto your house. Thus, defending your home from the risk of bushfire is an uphill struggle and you must remain prepared.
There are several tips that prevent burning embers from destroying your house, such as: Installing metal gutter guards, repairing damaged or missing roof tiles, installing metal mesh on windows and doors and enclosing the areas under your house. During bushfire season (which, in NSW is spring to mid-summer), you should maintain your garden by keeping lawns short and ensuring that you routinely clean up flammable debris that may have fallen around the house.
These tips come directly from the NSW Rural Fire Service, and because the weather differs dramatically across the continent, each state and territory has their own fire service with tips and important information about the bushfire season. The links to these sits are below:
- Western Australia
- South Australia
- Northern Territory
- Australian Capital Territory
As for the second part of your question, the decision to stay in your home during a bushfire is not one that you should make lightly and something that should be discussed with other members of the household. If a bushfire threatens your home there really is only two options: leave early or prepare your home and risk defending it.
If, for whatever reason, you are still inside your house when a bushfire comes through, we recently published an article on the the most suitable places for you to hide in your home during a bushfire. However, when "catastrophic" fires are expected, the advice is still to leave at the earliest possible time and be prepared to be away from your home for at least 24 hours. You should not remain in your home under these conditions.
Although this guide comes from the Victorian Fire Service, it is a well-designed, easy-to-follow document that you can use to prepare and defend your property. The four factors to take in to consideration if you want to defend your home are:
- Personal capacity: Your ability to withstand the high heat, loud noise, physical and mental stress and low visibility of a bushfire.
- Property preparation: How well your property is prepared for the bushfire (with the note that under catastrophic conditions, your home will not be defendable)
- House design and construction: The way that your house has been built is an important consideration when deciding to defend your home.
- Recommended equipment and resources: Do you have the right resources? The minimum recommendations are: 10,000 litres of water for firefighting purposes, a firefighting pump protected from heat and not on mains power, hoses that reach around your home and protective clothing.
I hope that this helps. The best thing to do is prepare your bushfire survival plan and remain vigilant by staying tuned in to your local fire services warnings and announcements.
Fires in Western Australia last week have killed four people after catastrophic fire conditions in the region near Esperance. All the victims reportedly died in vehicles. Australians are still underprepared for bushfires. With fire seasons getting longer thanks to climate change we need to look at why people are still dying in fires, and what you can do to get prepared.