In case of a bushfire

If you have bought land on Melbourne’s urban fringes, there’s a good chance your home could be near a bushfire-prone area.

This could be the case if you have bought land in the municipalities of Brimbank, Cardinia, Casey, Greater Geelong, Hume, Melton, Surf Coast, Whittlesea and Wyndham. They are among the 25 Victorian councils identified on a map of bushfire-prone areas that was created after the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.

This doesn’t mean that danger is imminent in those areas – the only certainty is that home owners should always be well prepared for fire season. And to expect the unexpected.

Where you live will dictate what to do before, during and after a fire. If you live in an urban area near grasslands, walk at least two streets back if a fire starts. If you live one or more streets away, grassfire is unlikely to spread into built-up areas. But stay indoors and keep all windows and doors closed, place towels or blankets around the bottom of doors and window sills, and don’t use your air-conditioner.

As with most things in life, planning for an outbreak of fire is the key. “Fire by its very nature is unpredictable and difficult to control, especially on hot, dry, windy days,” the CFA advises. “Not everyone thinks clearly in an emergency. A written and preferably well-practised plan will help you remember what needs to be done during a crisis.”

Perhaps the decision about when to leave is the most critical you can make as a family. As the CFA maintains, it is by far the safest option to protect yourself. This proactive approach should include staying informed by monitoring conditions and tuning into an emergency broadcaster via radio. “Leaving early means being away from high-risk areas before any signs of fire. It includes not waiting for a warning, smoke or a siren.”

A written plan is best, after extensive consultation with your family. Deciding who will do what, the plan should include which Fire Danger Rating was the trigger to leave, where and how you will go, what will you take, who to inform and how to stay informed. Most importantly, it should include what you will do if you cannot leave. Practising your plan of action beforehand can avoid arguments and delays when the heat is on, literally.

If your home is in danger, the fire plan should incorporate the quickest and safest exit points from every room, meeting points, staying low if there’s smoke, and a tried-and-true process for all family members to know how to contact emergency services.

If there’s a fire close by, it’s important to cover up any exposed skin because radiant heat can cause serious injury or death. Distance is the best protection against radiant heat, so it’s important to move one or two streets away from the fire.

Last, but not least, always have a back-up plan. Having a plan that identifies your shelter and last-resort options may just save your life.

Protection in place
Another of the Royal Commission recommendations was to establish new building regulations that determine a bushfire attack assessment and a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) rating that outlines the type of construction required. The BAL considers factors such as the Fire Danger Index, the slope of the land, and surrounding vegetation.

BAL levels range from non-existent in built-up areas in the city up to BAL 12.5, where grass fire is the main concern. This applies to many new estates. The ratings then increase to BAL 19, BAL 29, BAL 40 and BAL FZ depending on the proximity to bushland.

The CSIRO division of Building Research Victoria produced a paper outlining the features of a house with high fire resistance. Major factors included steel wall frames, with gypsum board linings for further protection, concrete slab floor, eliminating timber in the roof, and brick-veneer external cladding.

The increase in the use of Hebel in new homes is another example of builders being fire-smart.

Be prepared

  • Pack an emergency kit (including pet transport containers) and leave it in a handy place
  • Scan important documents and photos and store on a USB
  • Buy a battery-operated radio, torch and extra batteries
  • Save important contact numbers in your phone, including family and emergency contacts
  • Mark your escape routes and petrol stations on hard-copy maps
  • Arrange in advance with neighbours how you can help each other

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