✦ Fire Safety
Even though COVID-19 has dominated everyone’s lives for the past 18-months or so, it is time to turn our attention to the impending summer season and with it the potentially harrowing threat of bushfires throughout the country.
The devastating fires of 2019-2020 are still fresh in the minds of many and serve as a reminder of how destructive a force they can be and how much havoc they can reign down on communities, wildlife and the natural environment.
Counter measures in striving to minimise if not fully contain the threat are now, therefore, of paramount importance. Whereas we may not be able to completely stop mother nature in all her voracity, as was so sadly evident a few years ago in particular, we can all take definitive steps to minimising the threat and thus safeguarding our safety and that of those around us. And the key to achieving this is preparation, preparation, preparation.
Rob Webb is the Director of National Projects and Innovation at the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC). In a radio interview with the ABC’s Kia Handley broadcast on August 30, he touched upon the Bushfire Seasonal Outlook for the country, specifically for the NSW and Hunter regions.
Rob explained how the outlook is constructed using a gathering of the best bushfire minds across the country in addition to fire behaviour experts and state fire agencies. During the spring months they assess factors such as anti-seeding conditions, drought or how much rainfall has been experienced and the general state and different types of fuel (as in bushland, grass, trees, etc) that will impact potential blazes.
The weather conditions are a huge factor in determining the bushfire threat, says Rob, where high temperatures across the state and strong winds can pose particular problems. Of course, much of northern NSW experienced severe rainfall and flooding earlier this year which may mislead one to thinking that any imminent threat has been marginalised. However, this is not the case as the plentiful rains resulted in faster growing and healthier grass, crops and trees which, in turn, act as fuel for bushfires. Indeed, the Rural Fire Service stated that fuel conditions are above average for the spring period.
Video by Veronica Lind of a helicopter getting water from the Port Macquarie Emerald Downs Golf Course for fire bombs (28th October 2019)
So what can be done to prepare for any potential fire hazards?
Rob urges people to start thinking seriously and becoming aware of direct threats, of visiting the Rural Fire Service website to access tips on what can be done to control and contain any threats.
Assessing one’s own property and understanding best what can be done to prepare the property and the vegetation surrounding the property by clearing anything that could potentially fuel a fire is the first and most important step.
This includes regularly cutting the grass of the lawn to ensure it doesn’t become overgrown and thus dangerous, cutting long and dry grasses and any shrubs or thick undergrowth near your home; removing weeds and fallen leaves, twigs and debris that may have gathered, particularly in gutters, on roofs, downpipes and the base of trees; likewise maintaining well pruned bushes and trees and ensuring garden beds are kept moist through appropriate mulching or by using crushed rock or garden pebbles around plants. Timber edging around garden beds should ideally be replaced by stone to decrease the potential for it to fuel a fire. Planter boxes under windows or directly close to the property are not encouraged – instead people are urged to pot their plants which minimises any threat. Any wood piles should ideally be stored away from the house, preferably in a fire-proof metal container.
Any potential danger posed by nearby trees on the property can be professionally assessed and graded as to any possible risk. A method known as the Quantified Tree Risk Assessment (QTRA) system is particularly effective as it limits the risk of harm from tree failure while maintaining the benefits that trees provide. One local company based in Port Macquarie that services the Mid North Coast and that is fully QTRA qualified able to lend professional assistance is Accomplished Tree Management.
Photo: Veronica Lind - Are your trees at risk. Contact Accomplished Tree Management for a Tree Hazard Assessment.
People are also urged to install metal screens and shutters on windows and doors which can be kept closed in the event of a fire to prevent embers from entering the home. Similarly, roof vents and subfloors are advised to be covered with wire mesh to serve the same purpose – many flammable items are often stored under a house that pose a serious threat in a fire scenario.
It pays to invest in a professional roof inspection. Roofs deteriorate and weaken in time and missing or damaged tiles are common. Replacing these can be invaluable and help the roof serve as a buffer of sorts and prevent the fire from spreading to the rest of the home – even if the fire does spread it will provide a little more time that could make all the difference and provide an opportunity to contain it.
For houses that have a swimming pool, dam, or tank, people are advised to position a Static Water Supply sign on the entrance of the property which will notify firefighters that a water supply is easily accessible on-site to help them with their fire containment efforts.
Older houses are more at risk than newer builds, with timber and fibro constructed houses at principal risk. The general advice with such properties is not to have garden beds close to the house as they pose a significant threat in a bushfire situation. Door and window frames should be protected by sanding and repainting them as paint peels and cracks that inevitably occur over the years can easily attract embers which in turn ignite. Likewise wooden decking areas should be well maintained utilising the same approach to weathered window and door frames.
An additional tip relates to external gas bottles which in the past have caused catastrophic outcomes as houses were destroyed when either the gas plume flamed or gas bottles exploded. It is advised that the pressure relief valves on outside gas bottles are turned to face away from the house.
In addition to all the physical measures detailed above that can be taken to best prepare for a hazardous bushfire scenario, Rob also encourages people to draw up a bushfire survival plan in advance so families know full well what to do and how to react. This might entail ensuring that garden hoses are in fully working order and can stretch to all areas of the property, storing mops and buckets together in an easily accessible place and making sure fire hydrants are in working order and easily accessible.
Creating personal protection kits is also encouraged – putting together a kit with goggles, masks, gloves, hats, boots, cotton trousers and long sleeved shirts with surplus water supplies and first-aid provisions is a smart preparatory measure.
Rob reiterates that it is important that any survival plan is discussed and fully understood by all members of the family way in advance so everyone is prepared should the worst case scenario present itself. It is better to have prepared and be familiar with response routines than be faced with having to make critical decisions in the literal heat of the moment.
Bushfires are an unfortunate inevitability but how we prepare dictates how we are able to react and hopefully minimise damage to property, the environment and its inhabitants and, ultimately, ourselves and our families.
Flashback November 2019 when Port Macquarie and surrounds had to deal with bush fires
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