With the many extremes 2020 has thrown at us it’s easy to forget that most Australians rang in the new year indoors to escape choking bushfire smoke.
Or that many of us spent last summer living on the edge as catastrophic fires took hold around us.
Yet, in what seems like the blink of an eye, it’s time to prepare for bushfire season again.
While it looks like we’re in for a wetter and colder summer, this doesn’t mean we can take things any easier this year. There’s still A LOT of land that can burn around us. There’s also a good chance we’ll be dealing with intense and fast-moving grassfires this year thanks to our above average rainfall turning dust bowl paddocks into lush green meadows.
Before moving to the country, me ‘getting ready’ for warmer weather involved making sure I had sunscreen in the car and the eskies out of storage!
Now that we’ve moved to the country this ‘getting ready’ has switched to a visit to our local Rural Fire Service crew for an update on the fire season ahead and a full weekend of preparations.
With this year’s bushfire season starting on 1 October, it’s just been that weekend in the Tree Changer’s shousehold. So I thought I’d try to give some insight into what it’s like to prepare when you live in a bushfire-prone area.
Our preparation involves lots of checklists and lots of jobs!
To start, we grab our ‘Start of the Season’ list and do a stack of things to make our place less attractive to a potential spreading fire, including:
- Doing a major clean of the shouse and sheds’ gutters to remove leaf litter
- Moving any winter firewood well away from the house
- Checking the condition of all window and door seals
- Giving any long grass and trees near buildings a haircut (and keeping them trimmed through the season)
- Testing the sprinkler system we’ve attached to the sheds
This year’s prep involves my fun new toy – attaching my paddock rake to the back of the old paddock basher to clear the ground cover in the bush filled areas near the shouse and sheds.
We’ve also added putting up some new Static Water Supply (SWS) signs on our roads this year to show firefighters where our dams are if they need water.
We’ve invested in a bit of equipment to help manage small fires (grassfires really), so we also test our firefighting trailer and get our basic firefighting kit back together and into a central spot. This kit includes:
- Wide-brimmed, non-flammable hats
- Eye protection
- Long cotton clothing
- Leather boots
- Buckets and mops
- Shovels and metal rakes
- A light ladder to access roofs
We fill up a set of reserved jerry cans for the pumps and leave them in a fire-safe, but accessible spot.
We also make sure we have the latest version of the Fires Near Me App downloaded and do a refresher on our local AM & FM radio bands for the ABC to be able to access emergency broadcasting if needed.
We are by no means trained firefighters or prepared to risk our lives to save property, so our plan is very much to leave early in the event of a serious fire. And this is exactly what we did when a bushfire came through our place just after we moved here.
So with this comes the scarier parts of getting ready:
- Reconfirming our escape plan
- Reconfirming what we’ll take with us and what we’ll leave behind
Reconfirming the escape plan is relatively easy. We drive our main roads and fire roads often and also have a set of bolt cutters in our cars in the unlikely event we’re evacuating and come across an unexpected locked gate.
The what you take and leave plan can be a bit harder.
For us, this involves undertaking some housekeeping:
- Taking new videos of all of our buildings and their contents
- Saving our latest insurance docs to the cloud
- Making sure we know which cars we’ll leave in and ensuring they are packed or ready to be packed with water, a first aid kit, torches, an old fashioned battery operated radio and wool blankets
We check and restock our two ‘Go Boxes’ each year.
We have one box (the easy one) packed with some essentials to use if we evacuate including a change of clothes, toiletries, dog care basics and even a little bit of human and dog food.
This box also has a list of things not to forget to grab/do in the event we’re evacuating taped to its lid. Things like:
- Grabbing medication, laptops, hard drives and chargers
- Moving our outdoor furniture well away from the house
- Making sure all windows and doors are closed
- Making sure all sprinklers are on & pumps are fueled up
- Calling two people (family/friends) to let them know we’re leaving and (very importantly) where we’re evacuating to
The more challenging part is when we get to our second ‘Go Box’ – the one filled with sentimental stuff.
While we’re trying not to be so attached to things these days, this box holds a small collection of irreplaceable items we’d hate to lose. It’s mainly special mementos and old photographs (yes, we were alive in times when people used a thing called a camera to capture moments and wait until the film was developed to work out if they’d got it right!).
Finally, we have a few other essential plans that we run over and hope never to have to use:
- What we’ll do if a fire starts nearby and one or both of us is not home.
- What we’ll do if a fire starts nearby and it becomes too late or too unsafe to leave.
The later covers things like emergency protection measures and where to shelter.
Having already experienced a bushfire & evacuation first hand, I can confirm everything happens very quickly.
Fortunately – and as I’ve heard it said many times – little things make a big difference in an emergency. I like to think we know better now, and we’ll get better at planning and being ready as every year passes.
Anyway, I hope you’ve found this little bit of insights into the way we prepare and stay prepared for bushfire season interesting.
If you’re interested to learn more about how it all works from the pros, check out the RFS website!
Some photos from this year’s prep: