With heat waves on their way across the country, a new bushfire season is also ready to kick into gear. It can be a stressful time when you never know if or when a fire could threaten your home, but there are ways to lighten the load for you and your family.
Being prepared is fundamental to the survival of both your family and home. After what we saw during Victoria’s devastating Black Saturday fires, it’s important you have a bushfire emergency plan in place for your property and that everyone knows their duties should a fire threaten. Most importantly, you need to know whether you’re going to stay and fight or retreat to a safer location.
Whatever you choose, there are ways to safeguard your home from bushfire attack whether you’re there or not. There is no such thing as a completely fireproof home, but there are plenty of ways to make it safer.
At Australian Outdoor Living, we know how important the outdoors lifestyle is for many Aussies, and you shouldn’t have to avoid your tree-change dream just because of a bushfire threat. The urban sprawl of Australia’s cities is reaching further into the bush than ever before, putting more homes at danger during the bushfire season. So, to help you make your home safer this bushfire season, we’ve compiled some of the best advice across all authorities on bushfire danger.
A bushfire danger manifests itself in several ways, which you must understand if you want to protect your home as much as possible. Your property can be threatened by:
- Burning debris, including embers, burning vegetation, building parts, wood, and fencing carried by a strong wind
- Radiant heat: intense heat which depends on the type and location of combustible items around your property
- Wind, which flattens flames, breaks windows, and damages structures before the fire front hits
- Direct flame contact: flames actually touching the building
You should keep these four threats in mind whenever you survey your property to ensure it’s thoroughly protected against any attack.
It’s also worth determining the level of risk your house faces in a bushfire attack (called a Bushfire Attack Level or BAL), which is based upon location, topography, and vegetation. Understanding your property’s BAL can help inform you on how much investment you should put into fireproofing the block. This helpful guide will tell you all you need to know to assess your home’s BAL.
Image credit: CFA.
Plug the gaps against ember attack
Embers are among the most dangerous threats during a bushfire and can build up in corners, under floors and on horizontal surfaces. Thankfully, you can protect your home from them by addressing any openings or areas where burning debris can lodge.
Survey your property to check for gaps in:
- Roof cavities
- Areas below floors, decks, and verandahs
- Gutters and open eaves
- Ventilation systems
- Window seals and door frames
Make sure all your doors have close fitting screens and all ceiling and chimney openings are screened off. If you have a deck or verandah, erect non-flammable mesh screens to prevent embers from accessing the underfloor. Seal any smaller gaps around the building with joining strips or flexible silicon-based sealant.
Protect your windows
The extraordinary heat from a bushfire can smash windows, breaking one of your home’s defences against ember attack. Once there is a clear way for embers to enter the home, your property is a much greater risk of burning down.
There are several ways you can protect your windows from the extreme heat and combustion common in a firestorm, but one of the most secure ways is to install metal wire screens, special fire-resistant glass, or roller shutters made of non-combustible material.
Treat your timber
Timber is a combustible material, so if your home has plenty of it, it’s naturally more at risk around flames. Yet timber is one of the more beautiful elements of housing architecture out there and few people understandably want to relinquish their property’s look for merely practical reasons.
Concrete is the best non-combustible material, but if you’re looking for something with a bit more charm and personality in your verandah, pergola or deck, you can treat your timber with a suitable fire-retardant.
Clear your block
Your surrounds have a huge influence on how strongly a bushfire can impact your property. It’s important to clear any excessive understory near your property. If you live out in the bush, make sure there is no vegetation overhanging your property, and that dead shrubs, long grasses, and bracken are razed across your block.
Keep firewood, compost heaps, grass clippings, and any fuels – including spare barbecue gas bottles and oxy-acetylene cylinders – clear from the main property. It’s best to store them far from the home. Store other flammables deck items, including boxes, furniture and doormats, away during bushfire season.
Landscape a fire-retardant yard
Just because you live in a fire-prone area doesn’t mean you can’t have a beautiful, leafy backyard. But you should exercise caution about which plants to place close to the home, and which to eliminate from the property altogether. Tea tree shrubs, for example, are more flammable during hot weather and are best eradicated from your surrounds.
You should create a buffer around your home to eliminate combustible items and protect the property from flames, heat, and burning debris. This zone should be at least 10 metres wide from the walls of your house and should include no overhanging tree branches or large shrubs beneath the windows. Rocks and pebbles should be used on any garden beds instead of flammable mulch.
Some landscaping elements can help slow down a bushfire’s approach to your property. Dams, orchards, and veggie gardens are best installed on the side of your property most likely to see fire first. And having a wall of established trees (preferably with smooth bark) further away from your property can help trap burning embers and block strong winds and radiant heat.
Within your safety zone, there are also plenty of fire-resistant plants worth planting, including:
- Angels Trumpet
- Day Lilies
- English Lavender
- Plum trees
Check out the Tasmanian Fire Service for a comprehensive list of high- to low-flammability plants. The Victorian Country Fire Authority has also released this wonderful document to help you landscape your home for bushfire. You can also see if plants already on your block are fire wise using this handy CFA tool.
Stay prepared indoors
Although we don’t like to imagine it, sometimes you may have to seek shelter indoors and wait out a bushfire. This means it’s important your interior is just as protected as outside. Place any plastic pipes underground to guarantee you have a secure water supply during a bushfire, and reduce combustible materials inside as well as out. This includes any hazardous, flammable chemicals.
Install safety measures
If you’re in a highly flammable area, or if you simply want the best protection you can get during a bushfire, you can also install a fire sprinkler system across the top of your house or even a private bushfire shelter. Though these are expensive renovations, they can mean the difference between life and death if you’re taken by surprise during a bushfire attack.
If you want to know other renovation measures you can take, the Victorian Building Authority has produced a detailed guide to retrofitting your home to withstand a bushfire.
While there are the big projects you can do to protect your home against a bushfire, any major works are useless if you aren’t prepared to put in an extra bit of effort on a regular basis to maintain your property.
Most importantly, ensure your gutters and roof valleys are regularly cleared of leaf debris that can catch alight during an ember attack. Your block should also be cleared of leaf litter, twigs, and high grasses.
Sand and repaint or even replace any timber boards that look too weathered. Fill in any gaps between brickwork and seal all holes in joints and crevices.
Check any fire-fighting equipment you might have, including water tanks and pumps, so you know they’ll work when they’re needed.
We also highly recommend you talk with your neighbours to ensure you’re on the same footing. It would be a shame for you to put all this work into your own property, only to face unnecessary risks because a neighbouring property hasn’t exercised the same caution.
Stay cool, calm, and prepared
At Australian Outdoor Living, we know how much your family and home contribute to a wholesome lifestyle. So the best thing to do during the bushfire season is to stay alert, attend your Country Fire Authority meetings, keep up-to-date with the locations of fires across your state, and prepare your property for any eventuality.
If you want more info about preparing and maintaining your property, check out this stellar Country Fire Authority website. They’ve got all the info so you know you’ve prepared as much as possible for this bushfire season.
But don’t forget to have some fun this summer too! If you live in a fire-prone region, you probably have a wealth of nature around you, and we think there’s nothing better than for you to get out there and enjoy it as much as possible!
Want more from AOL?
At Australian Outdoor Living we love to invest our time in finding ways you can enjoy the outdoors lifestyle. Check out some of our other resources to keep this summer safe and fun for you and your family:
- Find out how to build a timber deck in a bushfire area
- Be inspired by these ideas to beat the heat this summer
- Check out our gallery of roller shutters to protect your windows
- If you want to know about implementing fire-safe renovations, contact us today.