As I write this, Australia has fires everywhere. All you need to do is Google “Fires Near Me” to see what I mean.
Some years back when I lived in Sydney, we were evacuated by the fire brigade due to a bush fire in the Royal National Park.
It was before we could just Google ‘fires near me’ and see an interactive map of what is happening around us. Back then we had fire fighters who would go door to door and tell us we had to leave. While still on the topic, I highly recommend you google fires near me to see an interactive map of where fires are right now or you can see an old version here.
When we were evacuated due to a bushfire, it was a surreal experience. It felt like the world was ending. We drove slowly down the road with smoke so thick we could hardly see in front of us. It looked so different, it was hard to believe it was the same road we drove on everyday.
The day prior to being evacuated we had been watering our roof, because we were thinking that was the right thing to do in this situation.
We packed up our pets, kids, took some photo albums, and left our home.
A few days later via the news on TV we learnt we could return home and we should be safe. When I came around the corner to see our house still standing, I felt like we had won the lotto. Phew.
Things to Consider While Preparing Your Home for the Bushfires in Australia
There is no beating the bespoke natural beauty of the Australian landscape. However, the residents here are required to be extra cautious because with this beauty comes danger. When it comes to being safe from the frequent bushfires that happen all over Australia over the course of a year, you can’t be too prepared or cautious. The warm months in the country are known to be extra sensitive to frequent bushfires. These fires might turn out to be catastrophic in certain instances.
With every passing year, the intensity of the bushfires is expected to pose a higher risk than in the previous year. Therefore, you should aim at ensuring the best-ever protection for your home and family on an annual basis. Things are constantly changing and you have to be sure you’re up to date with your preparations. It’s important to think ahead, because if the fire is already knocking on your back door there is little you can do at that point. If you want to keep your possessions or home relatively without damage, you have to think ahead.
With that being said, there are obviously different levels of what you should do to prepare depending on how serious the situation is at the moment. If a bush fire is raging nearby, certainly just leave. People are dying trying to fight a storm of flames that are unstoppable. But before things get that serious what are some basic things you can do to prepare your home and family?
1. Have a Plan in Place
Here’s a good question. What’s your fire evacuation plan? Do you have one? Do you need one? (YES!) I can tell you from experience not having an evacuation plan is reckless, especially if you are a homeowner and have children and pets. Give each family member jobs to do so one person isn’t running around frantically when the pressure is on.
Another major key: make sure they all know what their jobs are or you’re still going to have a mess on your hands when the emergency comes. I recommend having a 3 minute time limit in place for each of the jobs. This ensures your daughter isn’t still doing selfies 30 minutes later while the fire is creeping closer. Ensure prior to the emergency that you all know where you plan to go to when you evacuate the house. Old rural fire service has an excellent fire plan here that you can complete and print. Using a template can make it easier and help ensure no small detail is forgotten.
We have horses, goats, cats, dogs, chickens, and birds. We have a plan to take them all with us in trailers and cages, if the need arises. Each family member know which animals they are responsible for, too. If you have pets, be sure to include them in your evacuation plan.
With personal belongings. I just need to take my iPhone and iPad really. Of course, you’ll need to grab some clothes and your toothbrush as well. Bottom line: just know what your essentials are and where they are.
Worst Case Scenario Without a Plan
A tragic, but perfect example of why having a plan is important happened recently right here in Australia. A few weeks ago, a pet lover died in a house fire. She lost her life because she went back into the house to save some of her dogs who had been left behind. That’s the sort of thing I’d probably do if any of my animals were left behind. Maybe, if a plan was in place she would’ve gotten them out when she got out initially. These dogs where all saved thanks to her bravery, but at the huge, irreparable cost of a human life.
2. Stay Updated
Right now, there are no fires near me that I need to worry about. While that’s true at the moment, that can change quickly especially in the warm, dry season when we’re all the most vulnerable. About 3 weeks ago, a bushfire started at the Big Pineapple which is surprisingly close to me. Last week, a solicitor we deal with in Noosa had to be evacuated due to a fire at the back of the building which delayed people receiving their property settlements. I say all of this to further explain, things can change very quickly. It’s imperative that you make sure you’re aware of where the danger is.
Here are some links to some great places that will help you stay up to date.
3. Know Where to Go
If you were to need to evacuate, where do you plan to go? Does somewhere immediately come to mind? Have you thought about this before? One thing is for certain, the heat of the moment is not the time to be deciding. You need to have all of this worked out in advance. Of course friends that are not near fires is sensible, but will you be able to get to them? Will they be taking in others? Have you asked them? Be sure you do, don’t assume you have a place to go until you do your due diligence. On the Sunshine Coast there is a list of government safe places you can go to for support.
4. Preparing to Stay
I do not advise this. At all. However, just because I believe staying to fight a fire is not sensible doesn’t mean you are not allowed to make that choice. If you do make that decision, the Qld. rural fire brigade has an excellent page here on what you’ll need to have on hand to stay and fight and give yourself the best chance at success.
As I mentioned earlier, we have a bunch of pets and a plan for how to care for all of them if the situation presents itself. Dogs and cats are easy. Throw them in your car and go. Many people are unclear how to handle larger pets like horses in a fire situation. Here is an excellent link on how to deal with horses in a fire situation.
6. Install Smoke Alarms
If your house is in the path of an existing fire, smoke alarms won’t really be helpful. But what if the fire starts in your home? Fires start in homes often. We recently had to re-home a family because their entire home burnt down with a fire that started in the kitchen. Smoke alarms saved their lives. How many alarms does your house have? Do they work, are they in date? If you are a tenant, check with your property manager. If you own an investment property, check with your property manager. Establish a routine for maintaining the smoke alarms regularly.
7. Clean Up
We live on 12 acres and had huge trees right up to the back of our Queenslander home. Recently, we had these taken out and now have a fire buffer zone to reduce the chance of a fire reaching our home. So yeah, we are taking this seriously.
Maybe you don’t have trees right up to your house or maybe you don’t have the means to remove them if you do. But some basic things you can do are: remove all the leaves from your gutters, mow the lawns, rake up all the leaves, and clean up any weeds or debris in your yard and gardens.
8. Speak to Neighbours and Family
Do you live near someone elderly? Or an older parent who lives alone? Check in with them about their plan, be sure they have one. Maybe you can give them a lift at the same time that you’re evacuating. Ensure they know about the fire risks and see if they are tuned into ABC and the TV. Tell them how to check updates on when fires are near their home, if you can. Consider if they, too, need their gutters cleaned.
What insurance coverage do you have in case of fire? Speak with your insurance company to check you are not only covered, but also for how much. It’s not just the costs to rebuild a new home, but to remove the burnt down house and replace everything inside. People are generally grossly under-insured. You need contents insurance and building insurance, you probably need more than you realise and would struggle more than you need to financially for this reason.
10. Rental Properties
Do you rent a property? If so, notify the owners and property manager of the need for a plan or for maintenance around the home. Especially if the owner or property manager doesn’t live near the property you rent from them, notifying them of the potential fire damage will ensure that they are aware and can help take action, too.
11. Restore the Misplaced Roof Tiles
Research has shown that ember attacks are known for being the primary source, accounting for around 80 percent, of the losses caused in homes due to bushfires. Embers are known to enter even minute gaps of around 1.8mm in the roof and catching the wooden frame on fire. Therefore, you should aim at replacing broken or missing tiles right after noticing the issue. If you happen to live in an area that is prone to bushfires, then you should go for selecting terracotta or concrete tiles to better protect your home.
12. Keep Checking & Updating the Fire Safety Equipment
An expert at a leading support service for business explains that it is vital that homes are well-prepared for an instance of a fire emergency. This should be achieved by stocking up on the the right safety equipment and utilizing it properly. It is imperative to start over with a new fire alarm each decade and ensure it is working properly at all times in the meantime.
We already told you it’s imperative to install smoke alarms. We don’t mean to be redundant. It just seems so important I want to reiterate that it is also recommended to ensure that all the smoke alarms are working well and installed at safer locations of the house when possible. You should aim at testing their functionality on a regular basis. Smoke alarms in the house that are more than 10 years old should be checked more frequently and upgraded as soon as possible.
13. Go Forward with the Installation of Non-Combustible Fencing
When you live in a bushfire zone in Australia, the choice of building materials that you make is a vital concern. The materials you use are more important than in many places, as it could be the difference between your home making it through a fire and being destroyed immediately. As per the Australian Standards for homes, it is advised that all homes that are built in the bushfire zone are required to possess the BAL (Bushfire Attack Level) classification. In addition to aligning with these standards, assessment is also required to be carried out with respect to the vegetation in the given property, the slope in the region, and the Fire Danger Index of the given region.
A leading building constructor in Australia, “CSR Hebel” is known to provide access to a specialized range of products, especially for the homes being constructed in the fire zone. In addition to their specialized products, the company is also known for meeting as many as 6 BAL categories. Another innovative agency named Hebel PowerFence is known to make use of non-combustible fencing panels along with street posts for the best outcomes. These fencing panels are either finished with a monolithic appearance or with the help of expressed joints. PowerFence serves to be a highly versatile option, especially because they offer both high or low fencing options while also delivering a decorative appearance.
14. Keep the Gutters Clean of Leaves and Twigs
Twigs or dead leaves are known to catch fire easily while spreading the bushfire rapidly on the go. Gutters are a common place for leaves and twigs to collect and they are also very close to your home, obviously. You should aim at cleaning the gutters, downpipes, or drains of debris and residuals from time to time. This must be specifically done before the bushfire season in your area for maximum protection. If you wish to avoid any damage to the home or property, it is recommended to reach out for professional help for the best outcomes.
15. Keep Checking for the Home and Contents Insurance
It is always the best idea to be well-prepared in advance when it comes to safeguarding your home and family from the common bushfires happening all around Australia. While prevention is always better than dealing with a mess once it’s there, it is still recommended to look out for backup options in case a bushfire causes substantial damage to the home or property. Fire is a strong force and sometimes no amount of preparation will stop the fire. The loss of a home in a bushfire can be a major setback, especially without excellent insurance. This is the harsh reality of most homeowners out there that have been suffering the aftermath of the Australian bushfire seasons.
For ensuring all-round protection of the house in such cases, you can consider taking up a reliable plan for insurance of the home and its contents from a professional service provider. While selecting an insurance plan for your home, it is recommended to check that you also have coverage for the contents of your home in the case that they’re lost in a bushfire. Ask the insurance agent about all the possibilities for alternative accommodations while your home is uninhabitable, property damages for soot and heat (not in case of an actual fire), precaution classifications, and so much more.
16. Keep the Garden Area in Check
Longer grass in your garden can help in spreading the bushfire like the light. Therefore, it is recommended to pay attention to the garden area while regularly mowing the long grass to be assured of the best-ever protection.
For preventing the aftermath of a bushfire in your region, it is recommended to trim the garden grass quite frequently. At the same time, you should also remove any unwanted branches that might be hanging over your house. Try keeping the front as well as the back garden sparse –especially during the bushfire season in your area. Keep the garden area free from clutter, including kids’ toys, furniture items, and others. In case your house features a separate pool area, it is important to make sure that you have registered for the SWS (Static Water Supply) sign. This sign can be placed outside your home to let the firefighters know that there are water sources around in case of emergencies.
Like I mentioned, fire is a strong and fierce opponent. When bushfires are spreading across Australia, in many cases preparation is not going to prevent damage. In these instances, evacuate and thank the people who are brave enough to be out fighting the fires and keeping us away from danger.
Above all, please be safe.