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Plan, pack, prepare: What to do, wear and pack if you're forced to quickly flee a bushfire.

Eastern Australia is on fire. Skies over New South Wales and Queensland are thick with smoke from more than 100 blazes burning in never-before-seen bushfire conditions.

Three lives and more than 150 homes have already been lost, and stories are emerging from the fire-front of those who narrowly escaped the roaring wall of flames. Words like “unpredictable”, “ferocious”, ” apocalyptic” echo among them.

Emily Smith was forced to flee when a fire approached her Bobin home. When she returned there was little left. Post continues after. 

Video by Channel 9

Such was the speed and strength of many of these blazes, that some residents had barely an hour to flee.

If you found yourself in that situation, would you know what to do? What to wear? What to pack?

Here’s advice from rural fire services around Australia.

When to leave.

The decision to stay and defend your home or evacuate is an incredibly difficult one, but in extreme conditions, it can spell the difference between life and death.

When resources are stretched, there won’t always be a knock at the door or a phone call telling you to evacuate. Nor is a firetruck guaranteed to reach you if you call 000.

Therefore, in making the decision, the Queensland RFS says you should heed the advice of local authorities, and ask yourself these questions:

  • “Is your property able to withstand the impact of bushfire?” (You can check your risk here.)
  • “Do you have well-maintained resources and equipment and do you know how to use them?”

The NSW RFS also urges you to consider your personal physical, mental and emotional preparedness.

“A bush fire can be a terrifying situation. Strong gusty winds, intense heat and flames will make you tired quickly. Thick heavy smoke will sting your eyes and choke your lungs. It will be difficult to see and breathe,” it warns on its website.

“The roaring sound of the fire approaching could be frightening. Embers will rain down, causing spots fires all around you. Power and water may be cut off. You may be isolated, and it will be dark, noisy and extremely demanding both mentally and physically.”

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Leaving early is always the safest option; particularly for children, elderly people, those living with a disability or medical problems.

Of course, with fast-moving, unpredictable blazes or spot-fires that break kilometres from the front, that’s not always possible.

In that situation, it’s important to prepare your home and your family as quickly and effectively as possible, and plot evacuation routes. Be sure to pay attention to your local radio and TV stations, and monitor your local rural fire service’s website (links below) and social media pages for up-to-date information.

Last-minute ways to prepare your home before you evacuate.

Getting yourself and your loved ones away safely is the most important thing.

But according to the Queensland RFS, there are a few key preparations you can make to ensure your home has the best possible chance of surviving.

If there’s time:

  • Bring pets inside and restrain them (leash, cage or secure room) and provide water;
  • Move cars to a safe location;
  • Remove garden furniture, door mats and other loose items from around the home;
  • Close windows and doors and shut blinds;
  • Take down curtains and move furniture away from windows;
  • Seal gaps under doors and windows with wet towels;
  • Wet down the sides of buildings, decks and close shrubbery in the likely path of the bushfire;
  • Fill bathtubs, sinks and bins with water (in case supply is cut off);
  • Turn on garden sprinklers for 30 minutes before the bushfire arrives.

If it’s too late to leave, cover yourself in wet blankets and take shelter indoors, at the side of the building farthest from the fire front. It may take several minutes for the fire to pass.

What to wear to evacuate.

To protect yourself from embers, radiant heat and debris, it’s important to wear the right clothes.

If possible, wear long, loose-fitting clothing made from natural fibres, like wool, cotton and denim. (Synthetic fabrics can be hazardous as they are more likely to burn or melt onto the skin.)

The NSW RFS recommends:

  • a wide-brimmed hat;
  • glasses or safety goggles;
  • gloves;
  • a mask or non-synthetic cloth to cover your mouth;
  • a long-sleeved shirt and pants;
  • sturdy leather footwear.

What to take with you when you evacuate.

With limited time, it’s important to only pack the essentials.

Rural fire services advise preparing an emergency bushfire survival kit ahead of time, containing the following:

  • Portable battery-operated radio;
  • Waterproof torch;
  • Spare batteries;
  • First aid kit with manual;
  • Candles with waterproof matches;
  • Woollen blankets;
  • Emergency contact numbers;
  • Waterproof bag for valuables.

Then, as you’re getting ready to evacuate, add;

  • Cash, ATM cards, credit cards;
  • Medications, toiletries and sanitary supplies;
  • Mobile phone and charger;
  • Important documents (passports, birth certificates), valuables and photos;
  • Change of clothes;
  • Drinking water.

If you have pets: Make sure they are wearing an identification tag with clear contact details. Plus, pack a leash, carrier crate/basket, medication, food, and a familiar toy to help reduce their stress.

Prepare now.

Don’t wait until an emergency to consider how you’d react, or what you’d take.

Visit your local fire service website (links below) to create a Bushfire Survival Plan and find out how to prepare your home and your family for an emergency.

Queensland Rural Fire Service
NSW Rural Fire Service
Country Fire Authority (Victoria)
Tasmania Fire Service
South Australian Country Fire Service
Emergency WA
Northern Territory Fire and Rescue Service

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