What to do for established homes
|Have a fire extinguisher handy inside your house. Make sure everyone knows where it is and is easily accessible.|
|Install smoke detectors inside your house. Install them in areas where people can make a quick evacuation and in places where there is likely a fire could occur such as the kitchen, near a central heating place and so on (as the alarm will go off just when there is the slightest presence of smoke and yet still give time for people to escape).|
|Install the better types of smoke detectors that directly connect to your electricity mains (you may need an electrician to do this job for you) as well as a battery for backup in case of electricity failure in the home.|
|Smoke alarms should comply with Australian Standard (AS) 3736. Alternatively, smoke detectors labelled with the Scientific Services Laboratory SSL Specification CLP 124 or Scientific Services Laboratory AS 3786 are okay too.|
|If purchasing a battery-operated smoke detector, make sure it can run off the one battery for at least a year. It should also come with a low battery warning. Use a lithium-ion battery for longer life before you need to replace them.|
|In case of a smoke alarm going off, you should have planned out an escape route. Mark exit paths clearly in case there is lots of thick smoke in the house. Keep low and move quickly as you exit your house. Feel doors before opening them. If they are hot, the fire is likely to be on the other side. So take a different route.|
|To avoid electrical fires in the home, ensure all appliances are in good working order. All repairs to electrical appliances or the wires in the home should be done by a qualified electrician.|
|Switch off appliances you don't need, including the electric blanket, especially if you do not intend to be around to keep an eye on them.|
|Give adequate space around appliances for them to keep cool when in operation. Do not cover ventilation areas for appliances.|
|Do not overload power points. Running a large number of appliances on one powerpoint can create an unexpected surge of excessive current through the wire lying behind the powerpoint. This will either melt the insulation on the wire, or cause the current to jump across the exposed connectors lying close together just behind the pointpoint socket resulting in an electrical spark. Any electrical sparks produced by the current is what creates a fire.|
|Use a fire screen with an open fire in your fireplace.|
|In the event of an impending fire outside and you must protect your house, do not deadlock the doors on the inside. If the house catches fire, you need to escape the house as quickly as possible. No fire problem yet? No worries. Just be prepared for an unexpected fire inside the house by not deadlocking the windows as well as the doors. If you have sliding doors in the bedroom, do not deadlock them on the inside. You need to have at least one quick escape route in the event of a fire inside the house.|
|Keep all heating appliances away from combustible items such as clothes drying on a nearby rack, piles of old newspapers, curtains and furniture. At least one metre from the heating source is recommended, and even then always check every now and then to make sure combustible items have not been knocked over by children or pets in the direction of the heating source.|
|Keep the house clean of old newspapers, magazines, old rags and other household rubbish just in case a fire should start inside the house and could feed the fire with the clutter of flammable items.|
Keep several buckets handy inside the house. In the event of a bushfire and the house catches alight in the roof cavity, doors or near windows, use the buckets of water to put the fire out. Of course, before the fire arrives, have the buckets filled with water and ready for use. Fill the bathroom tub, and bathroom/kitchen/laundry sinks with water. Plug the roof downpipes with large wet towels and try to fill the roof gutter with water. Run an independent petrol-driven house water pump connected to a house or garden water tank and use long enough hoses to position sprinklers around the garden and on top of the roof.
|Have spare batteries and bulbs ready for radio and torches in case the standard mains electricity to the house should fail.|
|Use a fire-proof safe for the storage of important documents and valuables.|
|Get to know your local rural bushfire brigade if your home is in the country. Understand their strengths and weaknesses such as the equipment they have, and how quickly they might be able to come in the event of a fire.|
What to do when building a new home
Building a new home? Consider the following, especially when designing and building a home in a fire-prone area such as neighbouring a nature reserve or located in the middle of the country:
|Install aluminium or steel window frames. Do you need blinds? Install metal blinds rather than the wooden variety. Or obtain metal shutters than can close the windows and protect the house from hot flying embers.|
|Multiple exit points such as extra sliding doors in bedrooms as well as a main front and back door is recommended.|
|Use metal fascias, metal gutters and metal down pipes with metal leaf guards.|
|Decks and verandahs should be made of concrete or metal.|
|Use bricks, metal (e.g. corrugated iron) and/or concrete for the external wall of your house.|
|Install metal fly screens on all windows and sliding doors.|
|A concrete floor is preferred over an elevated timber floor.|
|Use steel gaze lined vents and weepholes.|
|If living out in the country, consider tin or steel roofs instead of tiled roof systems to help minimise openings where hot ash can enter the roof cavity.|
|Strategically place external house taps where you are likely to need them (i.e. watering the side of the house where fire is likely to come). Use metal sprinklers with a large hole in the top to help distribute water over a large circular area. Get the ones that distribute water in a 360 degree range and with no moving parts as they are the most durable, compact and can withstand vehicles rolling over them or the effects of a fast spinning nylon thread from a wipper-snipper hitting it. Buy several of these spinklers for each tap around the house.|
Purchase and install an independent petrol-driven house water pump next to the house water tank or garden tank in the event the mains water supply loses pressure and you don't have adequate water supply.
Keep the driveway from the main road to the house clear at all times to allow the fire brigade to enter the property safely. Keep trees lining the driveway at a safe distance and avoid the trees' canopies overhanging the driveway. Otherwise use no trees at all. Also design the property to have more than one driveway to a main road to ensure you have an alternative escape route.
|For an inner protection area around the house, avoid planting trees near the house where it is likely the canopy of a fully grown tree can overhang the building. Plant trees and bushes in isolation or small clumps with at least two metres of clearing between fully grown trees and bushes. Do not design a garden with trees and bushes close together and lined up in such a way that a fire has a clear path to the house. Use fire-resistant plant species appropriate for the area (i.e. can grow in your area and will attract native wildlife) when designing and planting your garden.|
|The outer protection area can have more trees, but keep the understorey vegetation to an absolute minimum. Ideally the understory vegetation should be removed to ensure no more than 8 tonnes per hectare of vegetation exists. Develop windbreaks in this outer protection zone using suitable fire-resistant plants.|
|In country areas, build sheds away from the house in case they catch fire and could affect the home.|
Consider the shape of the house and orientation. If most fires in your area are likely to come from the west, design the house to have the minimum surface area facing the west. Use the right building materials to ensure hot ash cannot stick to the building and burn such as smooth metal exterior cladding (e.g. corrugated iron sheets), or use more brick and concrete material.
Place gas cylinders away from the house and certainly not on the side of the house where fires are likely to come (e.g. the west). Relief valves of gas cylinders must point away from the building. Or consider not having gas cylinders at all.
In extreme cases where all the best designs of a house cannot save you in the event of a fire, do you have a location in the house where people can be protected such as a large underground cellar (fully sealable)? Otherwise assess the situation when a fire is predicted to arrive in your area and determine well in advance whether or not to stay in the house or leave the area immediately. Depending on the fire-resistant design quality of your home, the size of the approaching fire and the amount of vegetation outside, you may consider protecting your home so long as the house is well designed to withstand the fires. But if your house is old or not designed to withstand a fire, you should consider taking your most important belongings, your family, your pets and leave the area immediately. Have a plan ready to know where people and pets can find safe shelter.
What governments and the fire services can do for households
|Give adequate warning of any impending fire and provide adequate and up-to-date information. To make this achievable, use infra-red satellite technology where possible or perform regular surveillance of fire fronts by helicopter as well as gathering adequate weather information such as wind speed and direction. The most important thing here is for rural fire services and the government to distribute up-to-date and accurate information about fires on readily accessible communication channels with the public such as the internet, free-to-air digital television, and radio. Because the most important information people need to know is (i) the location, size and direction of the fire front; and (ii) how fast the fire front is advancing. Mark on a map the estimated time of arrival of certain fire fronts to various towns. Local radios should be informed when a fire is nearing suburbs, townships or specific rural areas so they can transmit the latest information to households. The more information households are given about impending fires, the better their decisions will be.|
What if I cannot save my house?
If all else fails, protect yourself and the people around you. Don't try to be superman in saving everything. Do all the preparation you can before bushfires occur in your area such as keeping the grass well-mown, trim branches around the lower trunk levels of trees, remove rubbish, and have a plan ready to take care of pets and other animals. Then assess how likely you can fight the fire on your own (and even with available fire-fighting equipment using reliable and powerful petrol-driven water pumps) if for any reason fire should still reach your house. Can you manage a worse-case scenario should fire go over a critical boundary on your property? If not, have an evacuation plan and implement it as early as possible, well before the fire ever hits your area. At the end of the day, your health and the welfare of those around you are far more important than any property you may lose.
If you want to minimise the emotional impact of losing your valuable possessions, we recommend that you make sure you have insured your home contents, equipment and fencing on your property, and yourself against fire with a reputable insurance company.
Also try to protect all your most personal possessions using some kind of fire-proof system. For example, consider purchasing a fire-proof safe to hold your most important documents.