6 Little Known Facts About Bushfires That Could Save Your Life

6 Little Known Facts About Bushfires That Could Save Your Life
This post is sponsored by the Department of Justice

Have you ever been in an emergency bushfire situation? I have. Twice. The first time I was in Sydney and I was just a kid. I did anything my parents told me and I don’t remember much except my mother’s face going white and the sky turning a revolting shade of orange. The second time was in Canberra in 2003. My brother and I were home alone for the weekend and left to our own devices. I remember almost every detail including the return of that horrible orange sky. Here’s a few things I learned from escaping the bushfires that day. Things I didn’t realise would happen until they did.

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6 Little Known Facts About Bushfires That Could Save Your Life

It Gets Really Dark

If the bushfire gets close enough to you, your electricity will go out. Make sure you have several flashlights, one for each member of the family and spare batteries. In an emergency situation, it can get pitch black dark in the middle of the day so make sure you’re prepared. Also store them in a place where they’re easily accessible and everyone knows where to find them. It’s no good having your emergency torch full of dead batteries in the bottom junk drawer in the kitchen.

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An emergency torch in my Dad’s drawer next to a portable battery operated radio Walkman.

Fires Are Really Fast

Scary fast. So check the conditions and get out early – don’t wait to get a warning. Trust me. Driving through flames in my brother’s Commodore with Enya wailing through radio and my pets panicking in the back seat is one of the least favourite experiences of my life. Everything can change in a second so just leave. Don’t even question it. When we were driving out of the fires we hit a road block, made a u-turn and where we had just been driving was engulfed in flames. Fires are really fast and you can’t out run them, so get out early. 

Pre-Packing an Emergency Kit is Essential

Make sure you have any medication you need, your phone, wallet, food, water, pet food and a USB stick with important insurance documents. Once the fire gets close to you, your brain will turn into mush so plan ahead. It’s really hard to be on top of everything when you’re on an adrenaline high. When my brother and I left our home during the Canberra fires it took us about 2 hours to make a 20 minute drive. Thankfully I always have a water bottle in my bag so we were okay but fires are really dehydrating and drinking water is the last thing on your mind when you’re trying to start your car in 45 degree fire heat. Pack your essentials bag now. Today. Because you sure as hell won’t be able to do it effectively when there’s a fire outside your door.

Plan For Your Pets

My brilliant brother had trapped our pets in separate rooms at least 8 hours before the bush fires got close. We were able to safely get our dog on the lead and our cat in the carrier without too much difficulty. People become really emotional about their pets in emergency situations and will often put themselves at risk to save them in the heat of the moment. Make sure you have a pet evacuation plan so both you and your pets can get out safely.

Keep Well Informed At All Times

Follow emergency services on all social media. If you’re based in Victoria, the website is here, you can follow real time bushfire updates on Facebook here, and their twitter handle is @CFA_updates. You can also download the FireReady App to stay informed. I was at the movies on the day of the Canberra fires and the cinema didn’t deem it necessary to stop the film and say ‘Hey guys FYI, Canberra is like MAJORLY on fire. Youre totes welcome to stay but it might be a good idea to go home to your loved ones. This meant my poor brother had been calling my switched off mobile for hours trying to get a hold of me and wouldn’t leave the house without me. This was way before the days of mobile internet so now there’s no excuse not to leave. Download the FireReady app and stalk them on all social media. Being well informed could save your life.

People Who Plan Stay Alive

When shit got serious during the Canberra bushfires, the electricity was out, the phone lines were down and our mobile phones weren’t working because every person in Australia was using theirs. My brother and I were completely alone in the dark and couldn’t contact anyone. My dad had shown me in his garage that he had a portable radio with spare batteries and he told me to use it to listen for instructions if there was ever a fire and the power was out. He also kept (and still does keep) a flash light under his bed so I was able to stumble my way through the house and find it in it’s place, where it had been for my whole life. It really pays to have a few permanent emergency measures in place for situations like that.

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This is my Dad’s torch, still under his bed where it’s always been.

Here’s all the info again for the CFA in Victoria. 

Website: www.emergency.vic.gov.au

Facebook: www.facebook.com/cfavic

Twitter: @CFA_Updates

App: www.cfa.vic.gov.au/plan-prepare/fireready-app

And here’s an article I wrote last year on How to Keep Your Pets Safe During The Bushfire Season.

Have you ever had to get out before a bushfire? Any words of wisdom from your experience that you can share?

This post was co-ordinated by The Remarkables Group
Carly is the founding editor of Smaggle which launched in 2007 back when blogging was weird. She has appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Cosmopolitan and Cleo magazines. Hoop earrings are totally her thing and she almost got run over by Myf Warhurst while out jogging one day.

30 Comments

  1. Great, and important post.
    I grew up very close to where the Black Saturday fires got to in Melbourne, so I can relate to a lot of these. My parents still live there and at the start of the summer they pack up a bag with all the important things so they don’t have to think about it, it’s just done. We now all have the Fire Ready App set up with alerts so we know if a fire starts anywhere in within 20km of their place so they’ll hopefully have plenty of time to get out if need be.
    Another great torch tip is that you can buy torches that you leave plugged in to a power socket (so it is always charged and ready to go) that will turn themselves on when the power goes out so you can always find them. Super handy as it then allows you to locate other torches and necessary items easily.
    Bottom line is, you can never be too prepared.

    • Author
      Smaggle 9 months ago

      The pre-packed bag is the best idea. It might seem a little dramatic but it’s way better to be safe than sorry!

  2. Nicole 9 months ago

    Excellent post Lady :-) Also, cleaning out your gutters well before fire season hits is a really good idea. Embers and pieces of burning debris can travel extremely far and you don’t want your house to go up in flames because your gutters are filled with crap. I was a volunteer fire fighter (in Canberra!) when I was a teenager and they suggested putting tennis balls at regular intervals in your gutters and filling them with water will extinguish embers before they have a chance to catch. Also, filling your bathtub with water if there is a threat of electricity going out. In a pinch, it’s safe drinking water for you and your pets and you can soak towels in it to protect your body if you have to evacuate when a fire is near.

    • Author
      Smaggle 9 months ago

      Oh no way! Are you from Canberra? That’s cray. Filling your bathtub is a great one… we had friends who used theirs for drinking water because all their pipes were undrinkable.

      • Nicole 8 months ago

        Sure am! Sutton to be specific :-) The bath tub one is great to guarantee at least some drinkable water until you’re either able to be re-housed or the water comes back on.

  3. Michelle... 9 months ago

    Excellent info. And I reckon applies not just to fires but to many other natural disaster type situations.

    3 years post earthquake, we’ve just been flooded (Christchurch, NZ). Pretty much all of the things you’ve mentioned above apply to both situations.

    There’s no excuse for NOT being prepared :)

    • Author
      Smaggle 9 months ago

      Christchurch breaks my heart. Mr Smags and I visited there in 2009 and it’s such a gorgeous place. I do hope you guys catch a break soon… and stay well prepared! :-)

  4. Erika 9 months ago

    Yep, we’re fire-ready, and (sadly), I’ve been in them before – and not just the 2003 ones. The big one is to BE ready – so have your plan, have everything in place and keep calm. We back onto bushland, and we’re staying. Plenty of long hoses, grass is kept trimmed, no trees or litter against the house, rake-hoe at the ready, petrol pump for the water tanks, fire-rated gutter guard on house and garage, wool blanket cut into quarters for flame control (yes, that hurt, but wet wool is the best for beating out flames), and also kept in the car. Plus we have leather workboots, leather gloves, fur hats, cotton and wool clothing…. battery operated torches by front and back door. Dogs water is in a big glazed tub, all outside buckets are steel, so we can scoop from there.

    Outstanding jobs – scan important documents (which aren’t really going to change) and copy to USB, start doing more regular backups. Get solar powered torches and radio (have heaps of candles and matches).
    Have a list of what you need to pack/take if you do have to leave. Check your insurance is current and sufficient.

    This isn’t saying we’re wonderfully organised, but it is a useful checklist to work against – we’ve all got things we forget….

    • Yep – scanning & backing up documents is a good one. My parents have actually left a copy of their computer backup at my apartment in the city so if the worst happened (in a bushfire or any other fire/flood scenario) they know they have all their important documents and photos safely stored away.

      • Erika 9 months ago

        Totally agreed – off site backups are the best option, although they do need to be kept secure (actually, a fire proof safe isn’t useful – the heat still destroys electronic copies, although it can be good for paper). If you’re happy with the security levels, cloud is a decent way to go. We’re terrible geeks here, so there’s a TB external drive that supplements the tape backups of our network. What would actually work quite well is a damp proof box dug into the ground (and an X marks the spot map!)

        Oh – and if you stay and fight, one of the first places to check after the fire front has gone is up in the roof space. That’s where most embers lodge and why most places burn….

        • Author
          Smaggle 9 months ago

          Buried treasure!!!! I totally want to do that!

      • Author
        Smaggle 9 months ago

        That’s so important… I should do that with my stuff and keep it at my parents place!

    • Author
      Smaggle 9 months ago

      We’re pretty well organised here… We travel a lot so we’re generally packed most of the time anyway! We also don’t have pets so that’s a bit of a blessing. I love the idea of protective clothing. That’s a brilliant one!

  5. Shelby Wright 9 months ago

    OMG where in Canberra were you? My parents were in Chapman and the fire came right up to their house – my dad broke his heel because he was up on the roof and the ladder blew away. (Lesson learned: secure your ladder.) They had to leave while the fire was still going and didn’t know until the next day whether their house was still there or not. (It was, but they lost the garden, including a huge deodar and a mulberry tree that my mum adored. The house next door was gone and so was the house over the back fence.) We lived in Kaleen at the time but we were away visiting Mr Wright’s parents near Taree. (We were in Melbourne for Black Saturday as well, and I remember the Sydney bushfires but they didn’t get as far as us.)

    I can’t believe the cinema didn’t stop the film!

    We had a bushfire on our property in 2012 – it was midnight on the first day of the bushfire season and we’d just flown back from Melbourne and driven two hours from the airport. We had head torches in the car so we put them on and spent the next six hours beating out the fire in the dark with green branches. It was surreal and strangely calm. The next day we called the firies and they backburned half of our property to save the other half – what we thought was a sneaky hazard-reduction burn was an enormous bushfire that had been going for a week!

    • Shelby Wright 9 months ago

      Forgot my advice! Here’s some I haven’t seen mentioned…

      Head torches are awesome. Spare batteries are also great, and make sure you can take the old batteries out (my head torch needs a coin to twist the battery compartment open).

      Don’t be afraid to call 000 even if you don’t think it’s that big a deal. I was a bit nervous about ringing them but everyone told me I’d done the right thing – the firies would rather deal with a small fire now than a huge one later!

      If you’re planning to leave, be realistic and leave as early as you can – better to leave unnecessarily and feel like an idiot than stay too long and get burnt up. If there’s only one road out and the fire is coming from that direction, you pretty much have to stay. (This is our situation; fires are most likely to come from the south-east, which is where the road is. There is a back way out, but it’s a twisty narrow potholed dirt road through a national park with a cliff on one side, so not really great in a fire.)

      If you’re in NSW, the Fires Near Me app is useful.

      And I forgot to say this is an awesome post :D

      • Erika 9 months ago

        Yes – one that we can never repeat enough! Yay Lady Smaggle!

        • Author
          Smaggle 9 months ago

          Thank you! It’s so important to keep people well informed.

      • 3cats&amouse 9 months ago

        If you need a coin to change the battery tape on to the back of the unit.

      • Author
        Smaggle 9 months ago

        Leaving early is key. It’s such a great message.

    • Author
      Smaggle 9 months ago

      I was in Kambah in Gleneagles – there was fire on both sides of Kambah Pool Road and its the only road out. There were spider fires that set fire to random houses it was so surreal. Mr Smags lived in Kaleen! He fought fires with his mates… it was really scary! I was in Melbourne for Black Saturday too. It was my mates 21st in Collingwood and there was all ash in the air. It was scary. I still can’t belive they didn’t stop the film. So irresponsible. We actually saw 2 films because my mate was reviewer so we were there for like 5 hours.

  6. That’s terrifying! Can’t believe you were still in the cinema! Great post Smags xx

    • Author
      Smaggle 9 months ago

      I know! Back to back to movies! My mate used to be a movie reviewer so we’d go every Saturday. I still can’t belive they didn’t tell us. What idiots.

  7. Bec 9 months ago

    Can I also add that the ABC is Australia’s official emergency broadcaster and will go into rolling (radio) coverage in a serious emergency as well as live tweeting and facebooking official updates. So it’s worth following @ABCemergency as well as your local ABC twitter account.
    Sounds like a very scary experience :( Thanks for sharing

    • Author
      Smaggle 9 months ago

      Oh awesome! Thanks for sharing… you can never be too well informed!

  8. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella 9 months ago

    Great tips! But wow I can’t believe that you’ve been through two of them! :o

    • Author
      Smaggle 9 months ago

      Yeah it’s weird right? And now that I live in Victoria which is the bushfire state I haven’t been near any of them. Weird.

  9. Dee 9 months ago

    Great tips! I come from cyclone area and a lot of these tips can be applied to any natural disaster situation. Nice one!

    • Author
      Smaggle 9 months ago

      Definitely! It’s amazing how interchangeable natural disaster preparation can be!

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