Megan Lewis

Qld bushfire safety tips

THE warmer weather is upon us, the region has already been placed on fire bans, and fires have already started to break-out across Queensland.

Alarmingly, still, warmer weather is upon us and conditions are becoming more conducive to a long and dangerous bushfire season approaching.

Are you and your family bushfire ready?

What you need to know for bushfire alerts

Do you know what fuels bushfires?

Dry grass is a quick and easy-to-burn fuel source that can quickly feed the appetite and intensity of a small fire, although grass alone is usually not enough to sustain a large bushfire. Shrub bushes and small bushy trees are a lot denser and thus have a greater capacity to fuel a fire.

The density of the scrub naturally dictates the intensity of the fire with any underlying shrub material a perfect breeding environment to re-ignite a smoldering fire and give it new life.  Forests are typically very dense and are sheltered by a canopy of tree tops which produces a ready-made source of flammable material, including fallen logs and a compost of rotting foliage. A forest fire is fuelled by this dense and rich environment which generates burning debris and embers which sustain potent and enduring fires.

How and why do fires spread?

  1. The intensity of a fire and the speed at which it spreads is often dependant on favourable weather conditions that can fan the life of the fire and power its drive in different directions. This also has a huge effect on firefighters' efforts to control the blaze.
  2. Wind can make or break a bushfire as it has the potential to fuel a fire or turn in on itself smothering its own progress. Wind can also pick up burning embers and debris and put other neighbouring regions at risk of spot fires.
  3. Secondary to flames, the intense heat that a bushfire creates can ignite the surrounding environment and quickly turn a small fire into a raging inferno.

If you choose to stay to defend your home be prepared

Protect yourself and your family first foremost. Make sure you have fire-retardant, protective clothing. By making smart clothing choices, you can help ensure your safety during a bushfire emergency. For maximum protection trousers, long-sleeved shirts, shoes or work boots made of leather, a broad-brimmed hat, industrial gloves, and to protect your face invest in protective eyewear, face masks or a dampened handkerchief to protect yourself from inhaling smoke.

The humble mop and bucket become efficient tools in a bushfire as cotton mops are renowned for their ability to hold large amounts of water and a metal bucket is resistant to intense heat and won’t melt like its plastic counterparts.

Make sure you seal under doors and windows with wet towels or absorbent blankets to create a buffer to prevent smoke and airborne embers from entering your home.

Ladders in good repair allow you to access your home internally in the ceiling cavities to clear embers that may have settled or remove debris that could become a fire accelerant. Externally, dampen down your roof and gutters to deter the advancement of an approaching bushfire engulfing your home as the front moves in. Did you know that you can plug your downpipes and gutters? These plugs are usually found in hardware stores but you can easily use household items such as tennis balls or home made sand bags that will do the job just as well.

Look in your garden shed and identify tools that may be helpful to fight off flames such as rakes, shovels and spades which will assist you to cover burning matter with dirt, extinguish spot fires or rake over areas where piles of matter may prove to be a fire hot spot.

You need to plan ahead and source alternate water in advance so as to not be reliant on town water entirely. This is very important particularly in remote areas as you cannot always depend on the reliability or supply of town water in a crisis situation. Independent water sources could be your swimming pool, a water tank or property dam. To access your alternate water source you need to ensure you have a hose that will reach all extremities of your home.  Hoses should be fitted with metal fittings as opposed to plastic fittings which may melt.  To assist with the efficient transfer of water a pump that relies on an independent power source such as a generator that is powered by either petrol or diesel allows you to effectively deliver water where needed. If you do not have your own independent water supply you need to look for alternate options to protect your home such as an agreement with a neighbouring property.

In a bushfire, a radio and a couple of torches that are battery operated are a must. If you locate a torch in the ceiling area this will give you the ability to check regularly for embers and loose debris. A second torch located on your person gives you visibility if and when you need it. A portable radio will keep you updated with warnings from relevant authorities so you can stay abreast of the bushfire’s progress and how it will impact your region. Importantly, don’t forget spare batteries for both torches and your radio.

Spot fires can easily become new bushfires or extend the life of an existing one. You need to extinguish them if they are small and manageable or alert the authorities before it gets out of hand.

Your neighbourhood community is a strong network when facing a bushfire emergency. A contingency plan to protect neighbouring families and their properties is important, as is being aware of where your neighbours are.

Mains power may be interrupted when a bushfire is active in the your region. Be vigilant and aware of the dangers this may present with fallen lines and power loss and plan ahead with alternate power sources such as generator run equipment where possible.

With a bushfire approaching, what should you do to be prepared?

Pay close attention to weather forecasts and stay tuned to your local radio station to keep up-to-date with the fire's progress. You should also keep an eye on your local surrounds, looking for evidence of an approaching fire such as smoke or haze or visible activity such as fire brigade and other emergency authorities. Bushfires can move swiftly so be prepared to act quickly.

Take action to identify fire fuel sources such as flammable items, rubbish and dry tinter on your property as they will grow a fire if ignited by debris or embers. Once potential dangers are identified remove them to protect your family and property.

Do you stay or go when faced with your property being threatened by a bushfire? Deciding to stay means you need to organise a plan to equip yourself with some simple firefighting tools and determine an independent water supply if one is accessible. The decision to leave is one that must be made very early on to ensure that your evacuation is safe and you do not put yourself or your family in danger. Injuries and death are more likely to happen if you are on foot or in cars and the risks become higher as visibility becomes poor and travel becomes more dangerous.

Your home can be a sanctuary in a bushfire emergency if you prepare it to cope with heat, smoke and fire as the front of the fire passes through. Home damage and destruction is more prevalent when owners are not vigilant when checking for embers and debris.

Staying in a declared bushfire zone brings with it a real risk of dehydration, heat stroke, and even asphyxiation. Direct heat can disorientate and disable you which can leave you susceptible to smoke inhalation. Be vigilant, stay hydrated and protect yourself against the elements.

Confronted by a bushfire in your car?

Don’t panic. Your car can be used to your advantage. Park your car facing into the wind which will encourage flames to be blown away from the vehicle in the event of the fuel tank erupting. Abandoning the car initially is a mistake. Plan to stay for as long as possible by positioning yourself on the floor of the car and covering yourself with a fire retardant blanket or cover for protection. You should always travel with your mobile to call 000 in an emergency.

In a bushfire emergency help is at hand:

Queensland Fire and Rescue Service offers you a diverse range of services in emergency situations and safety tips to help you prepare.

The Counter Disaster Operations and SES are both branches of Emergency Management Queensland. The SES can be contacted on 132 500.

The Queensland Ambulance Service serves the community offering medical assistance in emergencies. Dial 000 if you need help urgently.

Disaster management information from the state government is readily available on how to ready yourself and how to respond when confronted by a natural disaster.

A comprehensive weather information service is offered by the Bureau of Meteorology where you can find specific fire and weather information for your region.

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