Bush Fire Survival and The Hierarchy of Control by David Chambers

 

There should be no doubt that the summer months in Australia mean increased risk of bush fire.  Fire agencies like the NSW Rural Fire Service have advised of actions that can be taken to reduce the risk of death and property loss due to bush fire.  See information here.  I have categorised the steps proposed into the hierarchy of control elements as we know that the higher order controls are usually the more effective in controlling risk.

Elimination

  • Leave early
  • Elimination of fuel sources around the home (like vegetation)
  • Turn of gas supply
  • As a fire approaches move furniture away from windows (protect against radiant heat)
  • Do not get on roof to hose down embers (increased risk of fall)

Substitution

  • Substitute combustible materials for non-combustible like steel fences for wooden fences rock mulch for wood chip on garden beds

Engineering

  • Eliminate gaps in house structure where embers can enter
  • Ensure emergency vents from gas storages are facing away from building
  • Block drain pipes and fill gutters with water
  • Close all windows and vents into the house
  • Soak towels and rugs and lay across external doorways

Administration

  • Fill bathtub, sinks and buckets with water
  • Place ladder in roof access hole to allow checking for spot fires
  • Ensure the most valuable or important items are in a location that can be quickly gathered and taken with you, items like passports, hard drives and small valuables
  • Immediately after fire has passed check property for spot fires and check on neighbors

PPE

  • If actively defending your property wear full length cotton clothing, wide brimmed hat (protection from embers hitting face), sturdy footwear, eye protection, leather gloves and P1 respirator

 

Like most things there is complexity and usually one solution does not fit all situations, but it is about reducing the risk as far as possible.  When evaluating overall risks, individuals may need to consider additional factors for example, road access ways (is there only one road out of the neighborhood and is this road likely to become blocked by falling trees or congested traffic or are there multiple roads which are likely to remain clear).

While you may not be able to totally eliminate the risk of loss to your property, when bad fire conditions are expected, I like the NSW Rural Fire Service am an advocate of leaving as early possible as being your safest choice for survival.  Simply for my family that means in severe, extreme or catastrophic fire conditions we have already left our home and are at a safe location.  A link to the fire danger rating can be found here.