Protecting the environment

A checklist for protecting the outside of your house

What to do

Tick If building a new home, keep exterior designs of houses simple to avoid creating gaps and spots that are hard-to-get-at if you need to control hot flying embers entering those spots.
Tick Use metal roofs for the best protection against extreme fires and especially where there is a strong wind prevalent in the area. But sometimes the corrugated roof structure can create problems such as increasing the gaps for embers to enter the roof cavity around the gutter area. Try to find solutions to this problem or use alternative fire-proof roofing materials. But don't use plastics or rubber.
Tick If building a house, using aluminium frames for windows and doors is preferred over wooden frames.
Tick If you want to rely on your dam as a valuable source of water when fighting a fire, make sure it does not have a seepage problem or you could find your dam empty quicker than you think and when you need it most. The two most common reasons why dams lose water through seepage is because of (i) soil type (i.e. there is a lack of clay at the bottom of the dam to stop water seeping into the soil); and (ii) the construction technique (e.g. the shape and depth of dams can increase seepage problems via increased water pressure points). If you have seepage problems in your dam, consider purchasing 40kg bags of Arumpo Bentonite (which is safe for stock and the storage of domestic water supplies) or Sodium Bentonite to fill the bottom of the dam. This Bentonite material is a naturally occurring pure clay substance designed to swell in size when water is absorbed and, when properly compacted into the ground, to bond with the soil particles. This results in a dense impervious barrier for stopping water penetrating the floor of the dam.
Tick Clear areas around dams, creeks and rivers of invasive weeds, especially if these are the areas you need to have quick and dependable access to water in the event of a fire. In particular, try to get rid of weeds such as Cumbungi (Bull Rush) and Phragmites (Feathery Rush) as they tend to clog waterways and even make it difficult for your stock to access the water.
Tick If the house is already built, clear the ground of long dry grass, dead leaves, branches and other potentially flammable materials around your house.
Tick One of the best ways of clearing grass is by heavy grazing. Another effective way is by burning off.
Tick If you should decide to burn off a prescribed area, make sure there is adequate planning and preparation to ensure the burning off will not get out-of-control. This means slashing or mowing selected areas to create fire breaks. In this way, you can prevent the burning off from spreading beyond your intended burning range. Good planning also involves choosing the right days to burn (i.e. a day with no wind and in the cooler months of the year). Furthermore, you may need a permit and to notify the local Fire Brigade and neighbours of your intention to burn off a selected area.
Tick Alternatively, cut the grass with a lawn mower or brushcutter, preferably early in the mornings or in early spring to minimise the amount of fuel that can be burnt and to prevent the possibility of the hot metal blades from your machinery from creating a spark if it hits a rock.

As well as the house, there are a few safety tips to consider when using machinery on the land.

For example, on days of total fire ban, you are not permitted by law to use any equipment that might result in creating a spark or fire unless you are contracted to a government department which holds an exemption. This includes the use of any equipment that allow the exposure of heated parts to touch combustible material in the environment. This includes the metal blades (and even nylon threads, except the rubber types) on brushcutters, welding equipment, grinding, soldering (with flame) and gas cutting in the open air.

The use of tractors and cars over long dry grass should also be avoided where possible as the heated areas on the underside of the vehicle have been known to spark a fire in the grass.

Tick Clear the garden of other dry rubbish such as dead branches, wooden palings, newspapers and other flammable material.
Tick Keep the gutters and roof clean of dry leaf debris. The outside of the house should be generally clean of unnecessary and potentially flammable items such as hanging baskets, especially during the summer months.
Tick Spread or bury in soil fresh horse manure as the heat generated by the decomposing vegetation in the manure can spontaneously ignite dry grass.
Tick The same is true of grass clippings created by all your mowing. If you have a mound of fresh grass clippings and you let it decompose, the heat generated inside the mound could potentially ignite dry grass on the outside. So spread the grass clippings evenly and thinly over a large area. Better still, don't use the catcher on your mower to collect all the grass clippings. Just mow the grass and let the mower scatter the grass clippings back onto the lawn.

Tick Create additional firebreaks around the home such as a well-watered lawn, a dirt or sealed driveway, and an inground swimming pool or large pond.
Tick Seal areas on the outside of the house where hot flying embers (or ashes) could seep into holes or gaps and start a fire inside the house. This includes installing metal screen doors, fine wire mesh over vents, and enclosing the basement or underfloor of the house with non-flammable material (e.g. bricks, corrugated iron, or whatever).
Tick Store permanently flammable items such as the petrol can, dry paper and other material away from the house and in one location, preferably inside a metal shed with a concrete floor. Make sure the flammable items are properly sealed inside containers. Also rags inside the shed containing a residue of linseed oil have been known to self-combust at high enough temperatures and dry conditions. So wash the rags of the oil.
Tick At the height of the dry, hot season, turn off the cheaper variety of electric fences made of plastic string with fine filaments of metal wire running though it. Or make sure the grass is cut so low to the ground along the fence line that the grass cannot make contact with the electrified wire. Otherwise, if the electric fence has a tiny break in one of the metal filaments, it can create tiny electric sparks and this can be enough to set off a grass fire on your property.
Tick Buy a long, heavy duty hose for reaching all sides of the house while attached to a tap. This will help to water down the garden and keep the house wet in the event of a fire.
Tick Buy a hose nozzle with a wide-spray action.
Tick Do not rely on mains (town) water in times of a serious bush fire. It is likely other people in the area will be placing a demand on the water supply and thus reduce the pressure in your hose.
Tick Do not rely on electric water pumps in times of a serious bush fire. The electricity (if hooked up to the mains electricity grid) will probably fail. Use a petrol-driven water pump instead.
Tick Keep enough water reserved for fire fighting use. Water may be kept in tanks, dams, inground swimming pools and so on.
Tick Make sure the pump is in good working order and has enough petrol to start it in an emergency.
Tick Provide a gate valve to the water tank (a 38mm Storz coupling will help most professional fire fighters in your local area).
Tick If possible, and if you can afford it, install an underground sprinkler system around your home and on roofing.
Tick Plastic pipes for sprinkler systems, if used for fire fighting, should be buried 40cm below the ground. Otherwise the heat of the fire can melt the pipes.
Tick Use metal spinklers and pipes for keeping the roof of the house well-watered.
Tick Turn on the sprinklers at the moment when the first embers start to attack the house.
Tick The water supply for the sprinklers should be independent of the main water supply. This is because mains water supply could be lost during a fire.
Tick Keep metal buckets, ladders, rakes, shovels and spray backpack units in one convenient and accessable location near the house should you need them in the event of a fire.
Tick Make sure your house number is clearly visible so that emergency vehicles can find you.
Tick Choose fire resistant plants for garden landscape. The ones that reduce the flammability of plants are those with high salt content and moisture content of leaves, has a thick crown but the lowest branches are out of reach of ground fires, no volatile oils in the leaves, and the bark is not loose, fibrous or stringy. For a list of fire-resistant plants, please contact your local nursery or Fire Brigade.

The more fire-resistant native trees and shrubs include:

  • Acacia cyclops (West Australian Coastal Wattle)
  • Acacia glandulicarpa (Hairy Pod Wattle)
  • Acacia howittii (Sticky Wattle)
  • Acacia iteaphylla (Gawler Range Wattle)
  • Acacia melanoxylon (Blackwood)
  • Acacia pravissima (Ovens Wattle)
  • Acacia prominens (Golden Rain Wattle)
  • Acacia terminalis (Cedar Wattle)
  • Acacia vestita (Hairy Wattle)
  • Acmena smithii (Lilly Pilly)
  • Agonis juniperina (Juniper Myrtle)
  • Angophora costata (Apple Jack)
  • Atriplex spp. (Saltbush)
  • Brachychiton populneus (Kurrajong)
  • Casuarina cristata (Belah)
  • Casuarina cunninghamiana (River She-Oak)
  • Eucalyptus maculata (Spotted Gum)
  • Ficus macrophylla (Moreton Bay Fig)
  • Hakea salicifolia (Willow Hakea)
  • Hakea suaveolens (Sweet Hakea)
  • Heterodendrum oleifolium (Cattlebush)
  • Lagunaria patersonii (Pyramid Tree)
  • Melaleuca lanceolata (Moonah)
  • Melia azedarach (White Cedar)
  • Myoporum insulare (Boobialla)
  • Pittosporum undulatum (Sweet Pittosporum)
  • Tristania conferta (Brush Box)

Fire-resistant ground cover plants include:

  • Ajuga reptans (Bugle)
  • Atriplex spp. (Saltbush)
  • Carpobrotus spp (pigface)
  • Coprosma 'kirkii'
  • Delosperma 'alba'
  • Drosanthemum floribundum
  • Gazania spp. (Gazanias)
  • Hedera spp. (Clinging types of ivy)
  • Heliaxthemum spp. (Sunroses) - requires cool climate
  • Kennedia spp. (Coral peas)
  • Kochia spp. (Bluebushes)
  • Lampranthus multiradiatus (Noonflower)
  • Myoporum parvifolium (Creeping Myoporum)
  • Portulacaria spp. (Jade Plants)
  • Pelargonium spp. (Pelargoniums)
  • Rhadgodia spp. (Saltbush)
  • Rosmarinus officinalis prostatus
  • Rosemary (prostrate form)
  • Santolina spp. (Stonecrops)
  • Verbena peruviana
  • Vinca spp. (Periwinkles)
Tick Use a wind break consisting of high-moisture leaf content evergreen trees and bushes (perhaps watered regularly by the septic system to keep the plants continuously green) on the side of your house most hazardous to an approaching fire. Keep forested areas restricted to the south and east of the house.