Bushfire season: How to plan and prepare

Article published 6 October 2023

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Bushfire season: How to plan and prepare

Bushfire season has come early this year

AS October begins and spring begins in earnest, the expectation is that the coming summer will be record-breaking. Last month, the Bureau of Meteorology finally confirmed an El Niño weather pattern this summer. This comes with extreme dry heat and windy conditions. International meteorology bodies were way ahead, announcing that an El Niño event was underway several months ago.

Of course, this brings the perfect weather for heatwaves, drought and bushfires. The Australasian Fire Authorities Council has suggested that we may be in for one of the worst bushfire seasons of all-time.

Devastating fires burned across the Mediterranean, North Africa and North America during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer months. Firefighters from Australia and New Zealand travelled to Canada to fight fires that covered an area more than twice the size of Tasmania.

In the Northern Territory, there has already been a major fire near Tennant Creek. The fire was four times the size of the ACT. Victoria is now bracing for heavy rainfall after fires in Gippsland and other regions.

Currently, fires in NSW’s Bega Valley are devastating the community and another blaze in the Hunter Valley region is under control but still burning.

So, with all of this in mind, what can we do to prepare?

Prepare in advance

For those who live in fire prone areas, preparing for bushfire season is nothing new. Despite this, it is important to consider whether equipment or supplies might need to be checked, property maintenance needs to be arranged, or evacuation plans need to be updated.

If you do not have a plan, be sure that you make one. Even communities that do not have a history of being impacted by fires could get hit this summer and you may have a hard time getting organised quickly. Here are some key considerations:

  • Do you have an evacuation plan that considers any mobility issues or transportation needs?

  • If your evacuation route is blocked, do you have an alternative option?

  • Have you got a bag packed in case of an emergency? It is a good idea to pack lightweight clothing that covers your skin, food and drinking water, masks to help prevent smoke inhalation, as well as a phone charger. If you have an emergency thermal blanket or a battery-operated radio you could add that too.

  • If possible, include a power bank – this is portable, rechargeable device that you can use to charge your mobile phone or other devices without needing to use a power outlet. Mobile service may not be available, but you will want to have the option to use your device when possible.

  • Prepare a list of important items and make sure that you know where they are if you need to access them in a rush. Be sure to consider pets, medication, identity documents and sentimental or valuable items.

  • Do you know where to go, and who you will check in with? It is worthwhile to discuss this with your neighbours or other members of your community. If you can, check in with vulnerable members of your community to make sure that they have a plan too.

  • If your planned evacuation point is inaccessible, do you know where your Neighbourhood Safer Place is? If you are in NSW, you can find out here. Otherwise, check with the fire service in your region.

Evacuation Planning

Older people with health or mobility issues and people with disability should plan to evacuate before it becomes necessary. It is good practice to have an early evacuation plan in place. Is there a friend or family member that live out of your immediate area that can host you? If not, be sure that you have an idea of accommodation options that you may be able to access as a last resort.

If an evacuation order has been made, you can also go to an evacuation centre. You can check this website for evacuation centres that are open. If you leave in a rush this might be difficult, so be sure to plan well in advance and stay aware of changing conditions.

Check the Hazards Near Me website or your state’s equivalent, listen to community radio or contact your local fire service for updates in an emergency – if there is a local Rural Fire Service be sure to have their community contact number on hand.

The stress of evacuation can cause health emergencies and an increased risk of sustaining an injury from a fall. Plan, prepare and practice caution to stay safe.

Protect your property

The best thing that you can do to protect your property is to keep up with basic maintenance throughout the year, but especially prior to the worst of the bushfire season.

Norman Cook from the NSW Rural Fire Service in Spencer recommends that you make sure your gutters are clear, cut back any bushes or vegetation (especially if they are growing against the walls of your house) and ensure that there are no paints or fuels stored on your property.

If you believe you would stay to try and protect your property, be sure that you have prepared as much as possible and have a robust safety plan in place as well as a back-up evacuation plan.

Other concerns

As well as preparing for the fire season, there are worries about the potential harm of extreme heat. With energy bills soaring, it will be difficult for many of us to stay cool over summer. Keep an eye out for a follow up article with ideas on how to stay safe during a heatwave as well as information on NSW energy rebates.

In the meantime, check out the NSW Rural Fire Service’s resource on making a bushfire season survival plan here.

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