Preparing yourself, your family and your property is your responsibility. Serious bushfires can occur in rural and suburban communities.
During a major bushfire, firefighters will be working to stop the fire. A fire truck and water bombing by aircraft cannot be guaranteed to defend your home during a bushfire.
The more you prepare your property the better the chance it will survive a bushfire, even if you are not there.
The majority of houses can survive most bushfires with planning and effort.
A well prepared home will give you more protection if a fire threatens suddenly and you cannot leave.
Are you and your family at risk?
You need to think about the bushfire risk to your family and home:
- Do you live in or near bushland?
- Does your local area have a bushfire history?
- Do you have trees and shrubs within 20 metres of your house?
- Is your house built on a slope?
- Is your bushfire survival plan more than one year old?
- If you answered yes to one or more of these questions then bushfire is a real risk to you and your family, you need to have a bushfire survival plan, and keep it updated.
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What will you do to keep safe?
You need to make a commitment to develop a bushfire survival plan detailing preparations and actions you will take if a bushfire threatens.
When developing your bushfire survival plan, you and your family need to think about the following:
- If you plan to leave for a safer place - where will you go and how will you get there? Your safer place could be with friends and family, and may not be far away. Know where you will go and never ‘wait and see’. Relocating at the last minute can be deadly
- Does your household include elderly relatives, young children, 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 actively defend? (refer to DFES’s Homeowners Bushfire Survival Manual - PDF)
- Will your home provide shelter if you have to or decide to stay?
- 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 for up to ten hours after the fire front has passed?
- Do you have the right equipment and resources to actively defend? (eg. sufficient independent water supply of at least 20,000 litres and a petrol, diesel or generator powered pump capable of pumping 400 litres per minute)
- Will you cope with the noise and stress of a bushfire if you decide to actively defend? Being in a bushfire may be the most traumatic experience of your life.
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Prepare your bushfire survival plan
If you live in or near bush, developing and using a bushfire survival plan is critical. This plan will help you take action and avoid making last minute decisions that could prove deadly during a bushfire. When developing your plan decide if you will leave for a safer place, which may be to relocate to family or friends, or stay to actively defend your home.
Your plan must be prepared and practiced with all members of your family or household before the start of the bushfire season. If you live alone you may like to form a plan with a neighbour. Make sure you write it down, give everybody their own tasks and have a list of actions to take if there is a bushfire.
Your plan needs to take into account what you will do based on the Fire Danger Rating (FDR). On days of catastrophic or extreme fire weather it is safest to leave early, that is the night before or early in the day. You must decide in what conditions you will stay, if any, and when it would be best to leave. Do not forget to think about what you will do with your pets and livestock if there is a bushfire.
Practice your plan regularly and review it every year. Keep it in an easy to find place and make sure everyone knows where it is. Everyone’s bushfire survival plan will be different depending on individual situations and circumstances.
Click here to download templates and checklists to help you develop your own bushfire survival plan.
Have a back-up plan
Conditions can change very quickly in a bushfire, often without warning. Make sure your plan is flexible and covers a range of situations you may face before, during or after the fire. Bushfires can be very unpredictable. You must take into account what you will do if things go wrong.
Think about what could go wrong:
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- If you have no time to leave and a fire threatens you – where will you shelter and how will you survive?
- What will you do if the building you are sheltering in, catches on fire?
- What will you do if you lose electricity and water?
- If you are going to leave-where will you go, how will you get there, what will you take and when will you go?
- What if you and your family are at work or school?
- What if the weather changes suddenly and the fire reaches you much sooner than you thought?
- What if you are having a party or friends are staying? Their survival may depend on you
- What if your children are home alone?
- What if you have let your holiday house to friends or visitors? Have you prepared the property, will they know what to do? What is your plan for them?
- It is important that you and your family know what to do if things do not go to plan
Prepare your home and property
You should prepare your home to survive a bushfire, even if your plan is to leave. A well prepared and constructed house is more likely to survive a bushfire than an unprepared one. Firefighters may not be able to defend a poorly prepared property, their lives are at risk too.
Walk around your property and imagine a bushfire is coming. Look for items likely to burn or places where embers could start a fire, for example embers can enter through gaps in roofs, walls, evaporative air conditioners and gutters. Remember to install a stainless steel open weave mesh cover over your evaporative air conditioner and metal fly screens on your windows and vents to keep sparks and embers out.
Clear vegetation and rubbish from around your property and create a 20 metre circle of safety (building protection zone), to reduce the risk that burning vegetation will spark your house alight.
When the Fire Danger Rating (FDR) is catastrophic in your area it means these are the worst conditions for a bush or grass fire. If a fire starts and takes hold, it will be very difficult to control and will take significant firefighting resources and cooler conditions to bring it under control.
Homes are not designed or constructed to survive fires in these conditions. If this weather is expected you should leave the night before or early in the day, this is the best option for your survival.
Use the Preparing your property checklist (PDF - 201 KB) to help you get ready for a bushfire.
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Water supply and pumps
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 are planning to actively defend, you will need to have an independent water supply. This should be a concrete or steel tank with a 20,000 litre capacity to ensure adequate defence of your home.
Exposed PVC pipes and fittings will melt in the heat of a fire so metal pipe fittings should be used for above ground applications. PVC and polyethylene pipes can be used for below ground applications and should be buried at least 30 centimetres.
In order to have a water supply for actively defending your home, you will need a generator with more than 1.5 kVa capacity to drive a home pressure pump or a petrol or diesel firefighting pump. Pumps and generators should be able to pump 400 litres per minute (lpm) and must be shielded from high temperature caused by a bushfire. It is important that everyone likely to stay and defend your property knows how to start and operate the pump and generator and have practised it.
Hoses from the pump should be long enough to reach all corners of the home and should be fitted with a nozzle able to deliver 30 to 100 lpm. Fire hoses should be durable, flexible, able to withstand high temperatures and have UV protection. Hoses should be kept on a reel for ease of use and storage.
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Prepare your pets and livestock
During a bushfire your pets will need water, shade and a safe place. If you have livestock that can be moved out of the area, allow yourself plenty of time to relocate them.
If possible, move larger animals to paddocks with little vegetation. At the start of the bushfire season consider slashing a paddock to create a safer area.
Never turn animals out on to the road to run free. This is dangerous for fire trucks and vehicles, and you may be legally responsible if they cause a crash.
Pets and livestock are not allowed at public relocation centres so you need to consider this in your bushfire survival plan.
Once you have left your property it may be several days before emergency services give the all clear and you will be allowed to return home. This can be very upsetting, however it is vitally important that you obey road closures and wait for the all clear. Ignoring these instructions could put your life and the lives of emergency services personnel in danger as there may be hazards in the area such as falling trees and branches, downed power lines and damaged or blocked roads.
During a major bushfire emergency services will establish communication and recovery processes to help community members. This includes access to properties, if it is safe, to attend to livestock and other important matters.
Click here for more information about animal welfare during emergencies.
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Prepare to actively defend, physically, mentally and emotionally
If you chose to stay and defend your home, be prepared for a frightening experience. You must have a plan for how you will actively defend your house and where you will shelter so you survive. Make sure you have all the equipment you need.
If you live through a bushfire you may have physical, mental and emotional pain from the experience itself, you need to think about how you and the rest of your family or household would cope.
Picture yourself in the middle of a bushfire
- Fires happen in the hottest weather. Think about how hard it is to be outside doing physical activity in summer, now think about the additional heat of a bushfire
- Imagine if the weather has been hot for days leading up to the fire. You may be exhausted before the fire even starts
- Before the main fire reaches you, your home may be surrounded by showers of sparks and embers. This can happen for several hours. Embers will collect in corners around your house or enter your home through gaps and will need to be put out
- It is likely there will be strong winds and as the fire gets closer, burning leaves and bark will begin to land around your home
- Thick, heavy smoke will make it dark and you may not be able to see. Breathing may become difficult. Your eyes will water, and may become red and sore
- It will be extremely hot and you will need to wear protective clothing such as long pants, a long sleeved shirt and strong leather boots. Clothes should be loose fitting and made from natural fibres. Do not wear synthetic clothing
- The fire will make a very loud roaring noise that you may find scary
- The burning, crackling and roaring of the fire will be in addition to howling strong winds and sirens from fire trucks
- It is likely you will lose power, telephone and water services. Do you have the right equipment and resources to actively defend? (eg. sufficient independent water supply of at least 20,000 litres and a petrol, diesel, or generator powered pump capable of pumping 400 litres per minute). Remember, if you lose power during a bushfire, you will not be able to use cordless phones or remote controlled garage doors to access vehicles
- You may lose power, telephone and water services
- The fire front will normally take five to fifteen minutes to pass your house. This is when radiant heat given off by the firewill be at its highest. At this time you will need to shelter while regularly checking inside your house for spot fires
Now, ask yourself
- Will I be able to cope during a bushfire?
- Will my family or household cope during a bushfire?
- What if family or friends are visiting, how will they cope?
Defending your home during a bushfire will take several hours. This includes the time needed to do all the hard preparation tasks before the fire front reaches your home and continually watching for spot fires.
You will need to be in good physical health, with the ability to maintain a constant watch on your home and surrounding area before, during and after the fire.
Think about any medical conditions that may be an issue because of stress and smoke, for example heart conditions, asthma and other respiratory conditions. These may affect your ability to defend your home.
If you are planning to actively defend your property you need to make sure you are self sufficient. If you are unprepared, not able to or not sure you can defend your home without the assistance of firefighters, you need to leave early well before the fire reaches you. Firefighting resources will be busy trying to put the fire out and will not be there to help you defend your home.
Fires can be very frightening, and may make it hard to think clearly or make good decisions. It is important everyone agrees to your plan to actively defend, to stop people making different decisions in the heat of the moment.
Make sure you prepare and practice your plan to actively defend before the bushfire season starts. This will give you a clear set of actions to follow before, during and after a bushfire.
Use the Prepare to actively defend checklist (PDF - 346 KB) to help you get ready for a bushfire.
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