Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Time to prepare for bushfire safety

The time to prepare for summer bushfire safety is in the winter. Now.

Even if you plan to evacuate, your house is more likely to be there when you return if you prepare for its safety.

During a bushfire, vacated homes have the highest chance of being destroyed and each burning house sends embers to destroy others. Most in-town house losses are caused by such house-to-house ignitions - not by the bushfire itself. Good preparation, and knowledge of what to do, can virtually assure survival.

Of the few Black Saturday fatalities classified as having made some preparations (14%), the majority did so, bushfire scientists investigating the losses noted: ‘only in the hours, or minutes, before they thought a fire would hit.’

Contrary to the official fire service message, they found that people had not died because they stayed to defend. That only 5% of fatalities in or near houses had been engaged in any kind of active defence and very few had a comprehensive fire plan. That more than 2/3 of houses in the Black Saturday fire zones survived and 80% of home defenders succeeded.

The post-Black Saturday research confirmed that almost every loss is caused not by ‘catastrophic’ weather, lack of official warning, nor by ‘staying’ or ‘going’. But by apathy, ignorance, and confused understanding. What did some know that others did not?

Winter is the time to:
·        Modify the grounds.
·        Make and mend.
·        Check your bushfire safety plan and personal Survival Kit

Inspect the garden for clutter and flammability. In an un-cluttered garden, flames have to thin out; radiant heat has to die down, embers become sparse. The less dense the vegetation, the less intense any fire in it. Remove undergrowth and mow grass beneath trees - a tree can only ignite if such ‘kindling’ is beneath it. Replace highly flammable native plants and ‘fine fuel’ with fire retardant plants such as succulents and European deciduous trees. Move plants away from walls and windows. Flames can’t ignite cladding if it’s not being hugged by shrubs.

House are rarely destroyed by bushfire’s flames. Ignitions are caused by ember entry. They burn from the inside outwards, furniture and fittings first, frame and cladding last. Roof/ceiling space, windows and sub-floor are the main entry points.

Walk round your property and take note of spots where embers could penetrate.
·        Clean out the roof void! If you don’t have an inspection trapdoor, make one. Insulate above and below rafters.
·        Secure loose iron and fill nail holes. Install low flow roof sprinklers if affordable.
·        Plug cracks with a fire resistant expandable epoxy-type filler
·        Insulated wall cavities so burning debris can’t send flames up them. Or build on a concrete slab.
·        Shutter or screen windows and skylights so neither radiant heat nor embers can crack them.
·        Furnishings with fire resistant materials. Embers can’t ignite floors if they’re slate, tile, brick or quality lino.
·        Pack a Survival Kit containing pure wool blanket.
·        Prepare, plan and practice a thorough safety plan based on proven information.