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Staying Safe in Bush (Wild) Fires




  -  Fire Peril  -

The above is a headline on the front page of the “Age”  Newspaper, printed in Victoria on 18th January 2007.


The line at the top was underneath  a photograph of a man in tears sitting desolate on the step of what was once his home.


The headline tells most of it – and the official assessment now of the extent of fire desctruction in Victoria is 20%.   That’s 1/5th of the entire State of Victoria.    A State I live in and love.   The second smallest State in Australia, roughly the same size as Scotland and England.  That’s not big.


Australia is I believe, the worst place in the world for bush fires.   And if it wasn’t before, it certainly is now.   But then, bush fires are a part of summer in Australia and elsewhere.


Which brings me to the reason I am writing on this subject.


There are many places in the world prone to bush (wild) fires. And it’s a wise idea to know something about them – in case you are ever caught in or near one.



If living in a rural setting no matter where in the world you live, follow these rules and make them a must at certain times of the month or year.  Your choice as to when.


**   Clean out gutters of dead leaves and rubbish that could catch fire – particularly in the summer.   If possible, have installed a grid that allows rain only into the gutters and no dry leaves or rubbish.


**  Regularly sweep all dead leaves & grass and fallen twigs from around your home.  Keep it clean from ‘fire fodder’ at all times.


**  Never stack wood near your home – have a separate area for it, as far as possible from the perimeters of the house.


**  Keep hoses attached to taps in your garden   year round.  Don’t wind them up and store them, just because it is winter – you don’t want to be unraveling hoses from the garage, because your chimney is alight from your first winter cosy fireside.    (and regularly clean out that chimney too).


**  if possible have a separate water source apart from mains water.  That could be a pool, or tank water.   Not everyone can afford such things, but if you can – have a separate water source. 



**   Have a fire evacuation plan and make a decision well before hand, when and if you are going to leave.   People with children and pets, usually leave a threatened area.    They of course are your priority – and make your packing of cases, boxes etc small – be ruthless in your choice of what you take with you.    Only a few of your very best treasures, important papers such as the Title to your home, medications that are needed on a daily basis, food for pets, and water.    Decide at what stage you will leave and where you will be going to.  Stick to your own rules like glue – DO NOT LEAVE IT TOO LATE TO GO.   Late evacuation can be deadly.   Most bush fire deaths involve people caught in cars or on foot.   Once a fire is close, visibility is poor and traveling hazardous.  




**    NEVER attempt to tackle a bush, brush or wild fire unless adequately covered from head to foot in proper clothing,  a hat with neck protection on it, heavy boots and gloves.   That may sound strange – in the middle of summer ? you ask.


YES – as radiant heat will sear the skin off a person who is exposed in just shorts and T shirt and can kill a person in a very short space of time without even touching the body at all.   The wearing of heavy protection is no more uncomfortable than it would feel if you were gardening on a normal summers day in summer clothing.    In fact the body feels COOLER with some protection between it (the body) and a very strong heat source. 


**  In particular, watch out for embers that are blown from a fire that might be quite a way from yourselves.    A wind will pick them up and carry them, still nicely alight to possibly land in your own front garden.   Doesn’t have to be gale force winds – just a stiff breeze is enough to carry embers.


**  Watch on days of thunderstorms – be alert.   Lightning starts so many of the bush fires in our country, and has been the cause of many of the shocking fires we have this day.  


**  Learn to look and smell for smoke.   Observe keenly.   Look for smoke haze, or an unusual glow in the sky.    Particularly learn to distinguish smoke aromas.  



The above has been mostly taken from official sources,

particularly a centrefold in a newspaper from November last year,

from the reminders we get from the CFA yearly, and from my own knowledge.


There is no point in going into lengthy details about :

Back burning

Control lines

Convection columns

Crown fires

Ember attacks


Spot fires


But if you care to look them up for yourselves – please do.


A huge and grateful thank you to trained men and women from New Zealand, Canada and America, who have flown in to assist the exhausted volunteer

Victorian and Interstate fire-fighters here. 





A photograph taken by me, of one of the Upwey
Firetrucks that attended a small fire just
up the street - in March 2007.   A tree had fallen across
power lines, and was dangerous to everyone
and everything, and had already caused a small
spot fire which was quickly dealt with.
The men who drive these trucks and fight raging bush fires in
our State and I believe in all Australian States,
are  unpaid volunteers  who give their time, and
face extreme danger in their untiring efforts to protect
residents, property and stock.   They belong to the Country
Fire Authority and are on call 24/7.   They attend many
forms of disaster, including road accidents where petrol
has to be dealt with on the road, or people cut out
of vehicles. 
This also applies to the State Emergency Service (SES)
who are called upon throughout the year - not just in summer,
to assist in any emergency that occurs.
We owe a huge amount of gratitude and admiration to
these men and women who put their life on the line to
save and help others.
A huge thank you to the CFA and the SES volunteers.



Footnote to the  "Fire Peril" article above –


I have had experience in fleeing a fire – back on January 27th 1997.   A day I will never forget.  It was a day of searing heat, roaring northerly winds, and everything was an unearthly colour – orange, mahogany and red, from the sun showing through thick smoke.


The most terrifying day of my life.   I left it until a bit later to leave and that was the wrong thing to do – but at the time I was panicked by many things … Finally, I went down to the CFA in Upwey, and they told me to leave there and then, as there was but one road left open to escape on. Many people had gone.     With knees like jelly, I returned home, gathered my cats and dogs, their food and water, and a few other things I had packed and went down that road with the fire right behind me,  to the safety of a family members’ home about 20 minutes drive west by a very roundabout route.   It was torture leaving my home.  Neil remained to fight the fire if it threatened our home and my son Craig drove up that same one road left open, to help him.   Thank God for their sake, and ours, that did not happen. 



I will NEVER leave it late to depart again.    I have been packed up and ready to go since these fires began to rage out of control in the north east of our State,  just prior to Christmas although to date, we have not had any problems in our own area and I hope and pray it remains that way.  


And that’s how it will stay until I see leaves falling in Autumn, and I know the summer is over.  


Anne Byam