What to do during a bushfire
Section 4: What to do during a bushfire
4
What to do during a
bushfire
Protect yourself
Radiant heat - the killer in a bushfire
Radiant heat can kill. You need to cover up, dress to
protect yourself and take refuge form direct heat.
In the past, people have been caught in bushfires wearing
light summer dresses, shorts, singlets and even swimsuits.
They usually die without the flames even touching their
exposed skin. The real risks of bushfire are dehydration and
heat stroke which can lead to unconsciousness and death.
If you put your hand near an open flame, an electric
heater element or electric light bulb, you can feel the
radiant heat it generates. Draw your hand away and the
amount of heat on your skin decreases.
Put something between your skin and the heat source and
again, your skin immediately feels cooler. This is the key to
protecting yourself from radiant heat in bushfires - distance
and shielding protect you from dangerous exposure.
Shield yourself from radiant heat
Bushfires usually occur on hot days. You and your family
may be in shorts or swimsuits and bare feet and sandals.
Remember, the deadly effects of radiant heat are increased
by the amount of skin exposed to it. So as soon as you
know there are bushfires in your area, cover up!
Fire fighters wear protective gear to survive. So should
you. Some personal protective clothing is general
purpose and you will probably already have it.
Appropriate personal protective clothing
Organise a fire cupboard or box before summer and the
fire season and pack it with clothes for all members of
the family, and ensure all household members know its
location. Whether you plan to stay and actively defend
the house or leave early well before threatened, you still
need to have access to protective clothing.
ong sleeved overalls or long-sleeved shirt and
L
trousers in natural fibres (such as wool or cotton, but
not heavy clothing)
Wide-brimmed hat or hard helmet
Solid footwear such as boots, preferably leather
Woollen or cotton socks
Gloves – sturdy garden variety, not rubber or synthetic
moistened mask or large handkerchief for face
A
protection and to filter smoke
oggles or glasses to protect eyes from smoke and
G
flying embers
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The heat will be intense so don’t overload yourself with
tight-fitting, heavy clothes. Remember that everyone
should wear protective clothing, not just those involved
in actively defending the home.
All members of the household should
wear appropriate protective clothing
whenever there is an uncontrolled fire in
the area.
As the fire front passes, radiant heat levels become extreme.
Your clothes will not be sufficient to protect you for the five to
twenty minutes it may take for the main fire to pass. Radiant
heat cannot penetrate through solid objects. It travels in
straight lines and your best protection is a well-prepared
house. People protect houses and houses protect people.
As the fire front passes, stay inside with doors and
windows shut to protect against embers entering your
house. Remember, if you flee from your house, you lose
its protection against radiant heat. Many people have
died during bushfires because they were caught out
either on the road or outside rescuing animals.
Taking shelter in pools, dams and water tanks is not a
safe option. The air above the water will be dangerous to
breath, and may be deadly when inhaled.
Reduce the risk of dehydration
Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluid than
it gains. Dehydration is dangerous because it creates a
build up of salts and minerals in the body tissues which
put strain on the kidneys. When the kidneys fail, death
can quickly follow.
The high air temperature during a bushfire and the added
stress of wearing extra clothing to shield against radiant
heat will make you sweat heavily. People involved in active
bushfire defence may lose up to two litres of fluid per hour.
Some simple ways to avoid dehydration are:
K
eep COOL by splashing your face with cool water
D
rink cool WATER often – even if you don’t feel thirsty
A
VOID alcohol and fizzy drinks as they increase
dehydration
Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable,
so pay extra attention to their needs. Cool the skin
by sponging with cold water. Make sure they drink
frequently.
Protect yourself from smoke
Bushfire smoke contains particles of different sizes. The
impact smoke has on your health depends on your age,
whether you have a respiratory or lung condition and
your length of exposure.
Signs of smoke irritation include itchy eyes, sore throat, runny
nose and coughing. For most healthy adults the effects of
smoke exposure will clear up quickly after the smoke goes
away. Children, older people and those with pre-existing
On smoky days, try to:
Minimise outdoor physical activity where practical
est as much as possible and keep away from the
R
smoke if you have a pre-existing respiratory or heart
condition and keep medication close-at-hand for use
as prescribed
eep windows and doors closed when indoors and
K
switch air-conditioners (if operating) to “recycle or
recirculate” to reduce the amount of indoor smoke
eek medical advice immediately if you experience
S
breathing problems or chest pain
For information on air quality in your area visit the EPA
Victoria website at: www.epa.vic.gov.au/bushfires The
Department of Human Services also has fact sheet
information at www.dhs.vic.gov.au/emergency.
Mental well being
Bushfires can profoundly affect people, emotionally as
well as physically. Being mentally prepared for a bushfire
can help you implement your physical survival plan.
Knowing what to expect may also help reduce the impact
of fires and reduces the risk of panic, stress and trauma.
Consider the following
o through your plan step by step on the day and
G
stick to it
ocus on your plan and actions, put emotions aside
F
till later
eal with what is needed now and prepare for the next
D
step
oncentrate on giving those about you confidence
C
and encouragement
Risk of physical injuries
The risk of physical injury is increased during a bushfire.
These injuries can be caused by poor visibility, falling
branches, hot objects, over exertion, emotional fatigue
or falling from an unsecured ladder or rooftop.
To reduce the likelihood of injuries, it is recommended that
you wear appropriate protective clothing, move around
your property with great care, be aware of hot objects and
understand your physical and emotional limits.
If caught on the road
Remember, if your plan is to leave early when a fire is
burning in your area, do so before the fire threatens and
road travel becomes hazardous. Leaving late is a deadly
option. Declaration of a Total Fire Ban, or other high fire
risk days, should be your trigger to put your Bushfire
Survival Plan into action.
If you are driving and see smoke ahead, always u-turn to
safety if you have the option. Avoid being caught out on
the road during a fire as it is highly dangerous - a car will
not offer safe protection from the radiant heat. However,
if you are caught in a fire do not get out and run. Being
in a car is still better than being in the open.
P
ull over to the side of the road into a clear area – a
dirt track may be the best option
T
ry not to park the car in a place where it is
surrounded by vegetation that will burn - avoid long
dry grass and scrub
Section 4: What to do during a bushfire
illnesses such as asthma or heart conditions are more
sensitive to the effects of breathing in fine smoke particles.
P
ark behind a solid object, if possible, such as a bus
shelter of brick toilet block clear of vegetation.
E
nsure all windows and doors are tightly closed and
shut all air vents
P
ut the hazard lights and headlights on so other
vehicles can see you
C
over exposed skin as much as possible with clothes
made of natural fibres
G
et down as low as possible below window level and
cover up with a woollen blanket until the fire front
passes.
R
emember to drink lots of water to stop yourself form
dehydrating.
M
ove to safety only when you will feel a reduction in
the heat
A
lways carry a woollen blanket in your car if travelling
in the country during the fire season
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Section 4: What to do during a bushfire
4
34
What to do during a
bushfire
Protect your property
Actively defending a well prepared house.
A house is far more likely to survive if able-bodied
people are there during the bushfire because they can
quickly put out small outbreaks on or near the house.
Most houses burn down from ember attack after the fire
front has gone through.
However, to actively defend you need to make sure that
you have:
Prepared your house and property
reated a defendable space with dry vegetation
C
already removed from around the house
hecked that your fire fighting equipment is in good
C
working order and know how to use it
rovided personal protective clothing for all members
P
of your household
onsidered yourself as being emotionally and
C
physically able to defend.
Property and house preparedness should be an annual
event, preferably before the start of summer and the fire
season. Most people who are threatened by bushfire will
not have time to increase their preparedness before the
fire impacts on their home.
Residents must keep in mind that in a major bushfire,
CFA will not be able to provide assistance to every home.
There may also be private vehicles involved in fighting
the fire. Should you plan to assist in the fire fighting effort,
please consider the safety of your house and yourself
before leaving your property. CFA has produced the
booklet Operating Private Equipment at Fires. Be familiar
with the guidelines before assisting in the fire fighting
effort. These can be found on www.cfa.vic.gov.au
Move furniture away from windows
Your house and property have to be
prepared well before the day of the fire threat.
Before the fire front arrives
Inside:
D
ress in personal protective clothing to protect from
radiant heat
S
hut all windows and doors to prevent smoke and
flames from entering the house
M
ove furniture away from the windows to prevent
embers from entering the house through a broken
window and catching alight in the furniture
S
ecure a ladder under the manhole and place a torch
nearby for checking the ceiling space for any embers
that may have landed
F
ill the bath, laundry trough and buckets with water to
provide a water supply in the house for putting out any
small fires that may start
C
over your face with a cotton handkerchief to protect
against smoke inhalation
P
lace wet blankets or towels around window and door
edges inside the house to stop smoke and embers
from entering the house
Outside:
C
heck water supplies around your home and fill any
additional containers
R
emove or place inside garden furniture, doormats
and other loose items that could trap embers
When using ladders, secure them
safely.
Place wet blankets or towels around
windows and door edges
Block downpipes and fill gutters with water
Patrol your property for any embers and extinguish
them using mops and buckets of water, backpack
sprayers or a fire pump
Turn on your sprinkler system if there is one installed
After the fire front has passed
Continue to wear your personal protective clothing and
go outside again as soon as it is safe. Safely water
down the outside of the house, including the roof, and
look out for small fires around your house.
Continue to look out for small fires and burning embers
many hours after the fire has passed.
isten to ABC radio for regular updates of the fire
L
situation.
Check for burning embers:
Most roofs will not burn, so don’t get up on your roof
to hose it down as wet roofs are slippery and can be
dangerous.
under the floor boards
During the fire
Go inside when it becomes too hot to stay outside. The
skin on your ears and hands will alert you that conditions
have become too hot to survive outside. Your home will
protect you from radiant heat while the fire front passes
through – typically taking around ten to twenty minutes.
Take all fire fighting equipment inside with you, including
tap fittings, hoses and the portable fire fighting pump, as
these items may become very hot and even melt as the
fire front passes through.
Stay inside your house while the fire front passes around
the house and look out for burning embers landing
inside the home. Extinguish any spot fires that start. Do
not hide or take shelter in a part of your house where it
is not possible to see the progress of the fire. Keep a
watch of the situation and return outside as soon as the
main fire front has passed to extinguish any small fires
that may have started.
If your house catches fire during the passage of the main
fire front and you are unable to extinguish what has now
become, in effect, a house fire, go outside onto burnt
ground after the fire front has passed. Keep well away from
the radiant heat that is being generated from the structure
fire. Do not return inside the house for any reason.
inside the roof
under house spaces
on verandas and wooden decking
on timber window ledges and door sills
on roof lines and in roof gutters
around outdoor furniture
on doormats
in garden beds and mulch
in wood heaps
in sheds and carports
What to expect during a bushfire:
Hot weather
Section 4: What to do during a bushfire
ose down the side of the house facing the fire, and
H
garden area close to the house.
Wind
A lot of smoke and noise
Loss of power and water
Loss of phone
Fire trucks and aircraft nearby
Try to:
Keep calm
Take breaks
Drink plenty of water
Defending your home during a bushfire
can be a very frightening and emotional
experience. The conditions will also make
it physically demanding.
Move things that will burn inside, including door mats,
outside furniture or hanging baskets.
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