Horrific spring bushfires in suburban areas of the Sunshine Coast in QLD, are a grave reminder that you don’t have to live in a rural area to be impacted by bushfires. The ferocity of these fires in early September, followed by terrifying November blazes across NSW, QLD, SA and VIC has seen a devastating start to the Australian bushfire season. With lives lost and hundreds of homes razed, bushfire preparation has never been more important.
Severe and extended drought has seen large parts of Australia suffer exceptionally dry conditions, setting the scene for widespread, and severe bushfire threats as we head into a hot summer.
Prior catastrophic events, such as the 2009 Black Saturday fires, claimed over 2,000 properties and destroyed the homes and belongings of countless families. With more rural areas being redeveloped into suburban communities, and city fringe living ever growing, thorough preparation is key to staying safe this summer.
To assist you in preparing your property for the bushfire season, we have set out some helpful tips to ensure you are in the best position possible should you face the threat of a bushfire.
Preparing for the bushfire season
1. Ensure Sums Insured are adequate
If your property was damaged beyond repair in a bushfire, is your building insurance sufficient to fully reinstate it? Every summer carries with it an inherent bushfire risk, therefore having sums insured that adequately protect your property assets in a bushfire is crucial.
To help avoid a significant financial loss:
a) Ensure your building is insured for the full replacement and reinstatement value, and
b) Check that your personal Contents Sums Insured are up-to-date.
If unsure about the adequacy of your insurance, contact a Whitbread Insurance specialist to help ensure appropriate insurance cover is in place.
2. Bushfire Prone Areas (BPAs): Understand how insurance is impacted by new building standards
In the wake of the 2009 Black Saturday fires, the Australian Government implemented updated rules and regulations for new constructions in BPAs (as part of AS3959). The regulations set out strict new standards and construction material guidelines to help buildings have a better chance of surviving certain bushfire attack levels.
What does this mean for property owners?
a) Check your level of Insurance!
Given the changes, it is highly likely for older buildings in BPAs to be underinsured, due to the increased cost of reconstruction associated with materials that comply with the new regulations.
If you reside in a BPA and are concerned about your building insurance, contact Whitbread for further information.
b) Retrofit older properties to minimise the chance of a loss
To minimise the risk of damage, the Victorian Building Authority recommends that owners of older dwellings engage the services of a registered building practitioner to discuss retrofitting their property. While retrofitting isn’t mandatory, it can help prevent a total loss in the event of a bushfire.
If you’re looking for more information regarding retrofitting a building in a BPA, consult your local state fire or building authority.
3. Tidy up the property
Dry vegetation and waste can act as fuel in a fire. A small spark or ember that ignites a pile of waste, can fast transform into a raging blaze, or even create an additional fire front during a bushfire.
Tips to prevent spot fires:
- Remove leaves and twigs from roof gutters
- Cut grass to a length less than 10cm
- Clean up dead branches, leaves, and grass clippings from lawns and garden beds
- Ensure all dry materials have been properly disposed of
- Store any flammable fuels away from the buildings
While the CFA recommend having a 20m ‘circle of safety’ around buildings to prevent fires, this can depend on the property. All properties should ensure their yards and gardens are free of combustible waste.
For more advice on cleaning up your property, consult your local fire authority as per the map at the end of this article.
4. Have a bushfire plan
Your property does not need to be located in a rural area to be at risk from a bushfire – ember attacks can occur kilometres ahead of where a fire originates. Whether the property is in the vicinity of bushland, a forest, grassland or coastal scrub, all at-risk properties should have a clear bushfire plan.
A thorough bushfire plan can help you establish clarity on:
- When to leave
- Where to evacuate to
- What to take with you in the event of an evacuation.
The ability to think clearly during an emergency can quickly become impaired. Many lives have been lost due to individuals being unprepared and evacuating at the last minute. It is prudent to ensure that you have a plan in place.
Stay or leave? Make a decision as part of your bushfire plan
One of the biggest decisions you need to make well in advance is whether to stay and fight a fire, or evacuate.
If you don’t believe you can successfully defend the property against a fire, you need to relocate somewhere safe as early as possible.
Alternatively, if you decide to stay and defend your property, you must ensure you're well organised and adequately prepared with appropriate equipment and resources.
If you would like further information on preparing a bushfire emergency plan, consult with your relevant local fire authority as per the map at the end of this article.
5. Stay informed and act accordingly
Throughout the bushfire season, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) consults with state fire authorities Australia-wide, publishing danger ratings designed to inform the community of potential fire hazards each day in their local area. This is something you can check throughout the summer. This system consists of two metrics:
Fire Danger Rating (FDR)
This rates the prediction of fire behaviour, including how hard it would be to extinguish a fire once it starts.
The rating provides information on the type of bushfire that could be experienced on that day, including the type of threat it presents to life and property (on a scale from Low-Moderate to Code Red).
Fire Danger Index (FDI)
This metric measures the likelihood of a fire starting. It incorporates factors such as the dryness of vegetation, temperature, wind speed, and the probability of certain weather conditions such as lightning.
Whether your property is in, or on the outskirts of an ‘at-risk area’, it’s important to ensure you:
- Understand the different types of fire ratings,
- Regularly check with your local fire authority for updates,
- Are prepared to evacuate in the event of an emergency.
Further information regarding FDRs can be obtained by visiting the website of each state’s relevant fire authority, as per the map at the end of this article.
Radio, Social Media and Emergency SMS
A local ABC AM or designated emergency radio station can provide key information for residents regarding bushfires and areas under threat. Twitter feeds and other social media updates are equally as helpful in relaying information during a bushfire.
Recognise the following mobile number - 0444 444 444. Emergency Alert Australia can send out state-wide or area-specific texts alerting affected residents to impending fire threats, the appropriate action to take, as well as a telephone number and website where residents can obtain more information.
You can find further information on preparing your property for the bushfire season by visiting your local authority’s website, per the map below.
Australia-wide Metro and Country Fire Authorities
Click the relevant button to be taken through to their website
If you are concerned about the level of insurance cover for your property, please contact Whitbread Insurance Brokers:
*Source: ABC News
This insight article is not intended to be personal advice and you should not rely on it as a substitute for any form of personal advice. Please contact Whitbread Associates Pty Ltd ABN 69 005 490 228 Licence Number: 229092 trading as Whitbread Insurance Brokers for further information or refer to our website.