Fighting a fire isn't just about the during, it's very much about the before and after, preparation, having the right gear and being mentally prepared.
If you've decided to stay home and defend your property against a bushfire there are a range of things to be considered, from if the house is defendable through to what gear is needed and if you are mentally prepared for what you may face.
South Australia's Country Fire Service has a good section on its website about the mental preparation for fighting a fire, there is a great list of what feelings to expect and how to manage them.
"Bushfires are extremely dangerous and difficult for us to fight. Our instant response is to flee. We may only feel this when the fire is close. Then the flee response is often fatal as it can take us directly into the fire. We feel first and think second.
"Practicing your Bushfire Survival Plan gives you a chance to see what works and can help you overcome the instinctual response to flee at the wrong time."
The CFS notes you should only develop a plan after talking with those who have experienced a bushfire before.
Before deciding to stay it is paramount you understand:
- Fire behaviour
- Fire Danger Ratings and what they mean
- What to expect
- How fires have behaved in your district previously
- Think about what you might feel, what you are willing to deal with and how you have managed other fearful situations you have been through
- Practice the actions in your Bushfire Survival Plan to help you respond automatically during a bushfire threat.
It is very important that you do not abandon your plan at the critical moment.
If you are set on staying and the conditions allow for that, then you need to:
- Be physically and emotionally able to do this
- Be alert
- Have a plan
- Be prepared to act independently
The Victorian Country Fire Authority states defending your home requires two able-bodied, fit and determined adults.
You'll need this fire fighting gear:
- A hose, or hoses, that can reach all around the house
- Water supply of at least 10,000 litres, for example, a water tank, dam or pool (don't rely on available town water supplies)
- Petrol/diesel water pump and fuel in a safe, accessible place
- Ladders to access inside the roof
- Buckets and mops
- Shovels and metal rakes
This protective clothing:
- Wide-brimmed hat
- Eye protection googles
- Moistened facemask or cloth or P2 mask
- Loose, long sleeved cotton shirt
- Leather gloves (not synthetic)
- Long cotton pants/jeans
- Sturdy leather shoes or boots
If you get caught in a building during a bushfire:
- Make sure you have more than one point of exit in every room used as a shelter. Most bathrooms are unsuitable to shelter in because they only have one exit and generally do not allow you to see outside - during a bushfire it is critical to look outside and know what is happening.
- If your house catches fire while you are inside, you will need to respond quickly:
- Close the door to the room that is on fire.
- Move to the other end of the house, closing all the doors behind you.
- Do not get trapped in a room without an alternative exit.
- Move outside to burnt ground as soon as you can.
- Wherever possible, try to put a solid object between you and the radiant heat from the fire.
- Drink water to prevent dehydration
If you are caught in your car:
A car is one of the deadliest places to be in a bushfire. The only sure way to survive is to be nowhere near the fire.
If you can't escape the path of the fire:
- Stay inside your vehicle - it offers better protection than being in the open
- Park in a clear area, preferably behind a solid structure to block some of the radiant heat
- Park off the roadway and turn hazard lights on. Car crashes are common in bushfires due to poor visibility
- Face your car towards the fire
- Turn the engine and air-conditioning off
- Tightly close the doors, windows and air vents
- Lie on the floor (below window level) and shelter under woollen blankets to protect yourself from radiant heat
- Avoid dehydration: drink lots of water
- Heat and smoke from the fire and fumes from the car may make breathing difficult - stay under the blankets and cover your mouth with a P2 mask
- Stay down until the sound of the fire has passed, carefully leave the car (it will be hot)
- Move to a safe area (e.g. land that has already burnt)
Things to remember:
Do not shelter in a dam, swimming pool, or a water tank except as an absolute last resort. Dams, swimming pools and water tanks leave your face, head and lungs exposed to radiant heat and smoke.