You can’t outrun it or outlast it. But if you take five minutes to have a Fire Chat you might outsmart it.
It is a simple concept, but the fact is that just talking with your family or loved ones about what you will do if a fire threatens your home and property could save your life.
Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Director Community Preparedness Suellen Flint said finding a few minutes at dinner to discuss your fire plan is a good start.
“It only takes five minutes to answer a few basic questions with your family and friends - if you talk about when to leave, where you’ll go and how to get there, you’re safer than if you’ve done nothing at all,” she said.
To get the conversation going DFES has launched a new tool called Fire Chat, a website which asks some simple questions to help you decide what to do if a bushfire threatens your life and property.
“Those questions will make it easier to determine whether you should leave or stay and defend your property,” Suellen said.
“If you’re planning on staying then Fire Chat provides you with guidance about what you need to do to ensure you’re fully prepared to stay and defend.”
The website also prompts people to consider some “what if” scenarios.
These include questions such as what if your children are at home and you’re at work when a bushfire starts, what if you’re hosting a barbeque with lots of people and there’s a bushfire in the area, and what if you need to leave but the road is cut off by fallen trees?
Research undertaken by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre has highlighted that most people do not understand the emotional and psychological impact of being caught up in a bushfire.
“When the fire comes, day will turn into night and it will sound like the roar of a jet engine,” Suellen said.
“Smoke will burn your eyes, the heat radiated by the fire will sear your skin and the hail of embers coming down is relentless. It can be terrifying.”
Suellen said most people tend to wait and see before they make a decision to leave, something that can have devastating consequences.
This was tragically evident during Australia’s deadliest bushfire, Victoria’s Black Saturday in 2009, which killed 173 people.
The Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission found that very few of those who died had a comprehensive fire plan. Of those men, women and children who decided to evacuate, less than one per cent were well prepared, with most lacking a set trigger to go and a known destination, while 14 per cent were caught fleeing in cars or on foot.
A key finding in the aftermath of the fires (Lessons learnt from the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires) was that fire planning is a mechanism for controlling fear and anxiety in the event you are faced with a bushfire – something many people don’t realise.
Suellen said that people who don’t have a plan tend to make ill informed decisions because they are under immense stress.
“To avoid putting your life at risk, or the lives of those you love, we’d like you to have a chat now about when you’re going to leave if there’s a bushfire and how you’ll do it.”
“Don’t wait for when the fire comes to make that decision, because it can have a fatal outcome.”
DFES Deputy Commissioner Steve Fewster said that preparing for bushfires is a shared responsibility and community members need to take action to ensure their own safety.
“You need to take responsibility and ensure you and your family are prepared for bushfires, and that you are not putting yourselves and your loved ones in mortal danger,” Deputy Commissioner Fewster said.
“That means having a bushfire plan in place so you know what to do and when to do it, including leaving the area well before the fire arrives.
“If you see smoke and flames act immediately – don’t wait for a warning.”