Bushfires are unpredictable and no matter where you live in Australia, protecting your home and family during a bushfire starts with knowing the right actions to take and when to act.
If you haven’t already read our guide to essential bushfire preparation, it’s a good place to start. When you are directly threatened by a bushfire, following the safety warnings and advice of fire fighting authorities, while resisting last-minute alternatives, is your best chance of survival.
Each state and territory has it’s own bushfire warning system, and all have three levels of bushfire alert which reflect escalating risk. You can check current warnings for your area at www.emergencyalert.gov.au and following the links to your area.
A bushfire has started. There is no immediate danger. Stay up to date in case the situation changes.
At this stage, you need to watch for smoke and listen for updates on conditions. Be in contact with your neighbours and share any sightings of smoke or fire. It’s a good idea to fill baths, sinks and buckets with water, and change into protective clothing including long sleeves and pants and thick-soled rubber shoes.
Now is the time to review your evacuation plan. Check that your prepacked survival kit is ready to go, and gather other essentials that you need to take, like pets and medications, in case you have to leave quickly.
There is a heightened level of threat. Conditions are changing and you need to start taking action now to protect you and your family.
You can expect airborne smoke and embers to affect roads and possibly your home. The advice from fire fighting authorities is that even if you have not made any preparations, you should evacuate your property immediately, before roads are closed and smoke becomes too dense to see or breathe freely.
Don't stay in the hope of saving your home and don’t wait for further information or warnings. According to the WA’s Department of Fire Emergency Services (DFES) “Not hearing a warning does not mean there is no threat. You should watch for signs of a bushfire, especially smoke and flames. Bushfires can move very quickly and there may not be time for a warning to be issued, you need to put your preparations into action immediately, do not wait and see.”
This is the highest level of Bush Fire Alert. You may be in danger and need to take action immediately. Any delay now puts your life at risk.
An emergency warning means that fire fighters do not yet have the fire under control. If you have not already left for a safer place, go immediately.
If you are unable to leave and the fire front is close by, move inside and close all external doors, windows, shutters and curtains. Try to monitor the direction the fire is moving. Place wet towels and blankets under doors and windows to seal gaps and help prevent embers and smoke from getting inside. Patrol inside the house for spot fires that may start from embers and extinguish with the water at hand or wet towels.
If part of your home catches fire and the conditions inside become unbearable, the WA DFES advises to leave the house. “You need to get out and head to an area that has already been burnt. Close all internal doors and leave through the door as far from the approaching fire as possible. Many people have died from toxic smoke and fumes when their house has caught fire.”
If you need to leave quickly, the challenge is to move to a place that is safer. Most Local Government Areas designate community buildings and areas as Safer Places and do so at the time of a threat according to the prevailing conditions of a bushfire. However there are many pre-designated Neighbourhood Safer Places, and you can check the nearest to you at dfes.wa.gov.au.
If you find yourself in the position of needing to make a claim, David Kneipp, QBE’s National Relationship Manager for Claims, says, “Don’t worry if you don’t have your paperwork. We just need your name and address. However, in general it’s a good idea to store as many documents as possible in the Cloud. This means you can easily access them regardless of the situation.”
Check your insurance is up to date so you know you’re covered if you need to claim.
This article is intended as a general guide only. You should consult your state fire and emergency services for further information.
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