Bushfire frequently occurs during the warm months of the year. It mostly occurs in areas with hot and dry climate such as Australia, where sometimes, bushfire happens almost every year. It causes loss to property and human life. Nonetheless, you determine the impact bushfires have on your surroundings by preparing adequately and learning how to prepare for a bushfire.
Fire events are an essential part of the ecology in Australia. There is a native flora in the continent that has emerged and uses bushfires as a means of reproduction. Bushfire has been used for an extended period to raise grassland for hunting and clear track through dense vegetation. There are significant firestorms that have led to massive loss of life across the continent. They are named according to the day they occur. For example, there is Black Saturday and Ash Wednesday. The most extensive, intense, and deadly bushfires mainly occur during the heat.
Life property and how to prepare for a bushfire
A well prepared and constructed house is likely to survive a bushfire than an unprepared house. This guide discusses in details ways in which someone can make to survive from a bushfire. Even if you are hardly home, they are measures you can take to help your property survive a bush fire. Firefighters defend bushfire easily in a prepared house. The neighborhood is also less likely to be put at risk by a ready home. Preventing a fire in the home requires participation from all members, including children.
Behavior and Fuel
For bushfire to continue going, it requires oxygen. The more oxygen is available, the faster the fire burns. Strong winds also accelerate the speed of the fire by increasing air circulation and proving more oxygen. The measure should be taken to reduce the speed of the wind. For example, planting trees shelter houses from wind hence protecting the home. Fire moves faster in grassland than in the forest. This is because in meadows, there are strong winds and fuels are less dense, facilitating smooth movement of oxygen through the grass.
There is a lot of heat generated by bushfire. Most of the heat moves up in the air while some heat radiate in the ground. The temperature on the soil dries out vegetation, making them burn. It can kill animals, people, and plants. People should protect themselves by covering the bare skin with a fiber cloth. Radiant heat is fierce. People should hide inside the building because radiant heat does not reach there. A building with a minimum of 20- meter protection Zone can help save people from fire.
During the northern dry season and summer, Australia is covered by vegetation. These include long dry grass, leaves and twigs and parched native shrubs. All these are fuels for fire. There will be no fire if there is no fuel and source of ignition. You can prevent fire by making sure that the fuels are not available or by reducing them. Firebreaks should be created, and grass should be slashed before the fire season begins. It is advisable to remove fuels around the house to reduce the intensity for fire and also the length.
How does a House Catch Fire?
There are three different ways in which a bushfire attacks a property.
This occurs mainly when the house is located close to a fire hazard.
This is the energy that is produced by a fire. It attacks buildings by igniting flammable objects and by heating. In buildings, windows are the most exposed to radiant heat.
This occurs before, during, and after the fire, front passes. Embers attack causes nearly all structural damage in a bushfire. The land is almost all places, and when not extinguished, they create complete engulf in the house.
Prepare your home
Several measures can be taken to protect a home from a bushfire attack. Regardless of when the home was built and the standard of construction of the house, a Building Protection Zone is essential to increase the chance of surviving a bushfire attack.
Building Protection Zone (BPZ)
This is a buffer zone that is between a building and a bushfire hazard. Fuel loads are minimized in this zone to reduce smoke attack, radiant heat level, ember, and flame. An adequate Building Protection Zone provides safety for firefighters and other emergency services and also sufficient space to accomplish bushfire destruction activities.
Fuel load should be managed and decreased to a minimum of 20 meters around a building to survive a bushfire. A Building Protection Zone created should be less than two tonnes per hectare of excellent fuel.
The following measure should be ensured within the Building Protection Zone;
- A minimum of 10 meters apart in tree crowns.
- Trees should be pruned up to a height of 2 meters. There should be no tree located near 2 meters to a building.
- Branches of trees do not make overhand the building.
- A gap of at least three times the height of mature shrub is present away from the building
- Shrubs should not be planted in clumps.
- Shrubs and trees should not have elevated dead material within the crowns. Lawns should be kept green and short.
- Sheds and fences should be constructed by the use of non- combustible materials.
- The slope should be considered. More fuel will need to be cleared when the slope is steeper.
Understanding the Risk of Bushfire
The factors explained below should be understood to determine the risk caused by a fire in a particular area.
The Longevity of the Fire season
A high-risk area has an extended fire season and heavy fuel loads available. The fire season in a low-risk area is shorter, with little fuel available.
Do you live near or in a steep place? It is very risky. The steeper the area is, the bigger the threat. Low-risk areas are quite flat or have gentle slopes.
To burn, fire requires fuel including scrub, long grass, floor litter, and forest. If your environs have heavy vegetation coverage, then you are at a higher risk. Low-risk areas feature no or little vegetation.
Dryness of the Plants
Drier vegetation poses a greater fire hazard. Plants naturally dry out during summer due to changes in temperature and humidity.
Frequency of Bushfires
Bushfires are historical in some regions. If fires have occurred often over the years, the place is at high risk.
The Roads Condition
Good roads translate to more effortless movement around the place. A single road or roads that are blocked by the falling trees have a more significant threat.
Simple tasks can make a big difference in protecting property during a bushfire. These pointers should be undertaken before and also during a bushfire. The following tasks are useful for all homes, whether old or newly built.
Gutters and Roof
Be sure to remove leaves from roofing, gutters, and downpipes regularly. You can install metallic leaf gutter guards that prevent the build-up of litter. Look out for dislodged roofing materials or broken tiles to ensure repairs are done prior to the bushfire season. Also, seal any gaps that would let in embers inside the roof space.
External Windows and Walls
Thoroughly inspect your external walls. Watch out for any gaps and fill them in. If you find decaying timber, damaged cement sheeting or broken bricks, repair them to keep embers at bay.
Patios, verandas, balconies, and under steps should not feature combustible materials. Avoid storing rubbish, wood, or things that can easily catch fire from a nearby bushfire. Use non-combustible welcome mats and place them a short distance from the steps.
Hose reels, taps and hoses should be in excellent condition. Confirm that pumps are oiled, fueled, and start easily. Do you own a Bushfire Water Spray System? See to it that it meets the AS5414 standards. Also, the water supply should be adequate.
Access tracks and driveways should be in good condition and clear of trees. Usually, fire service access is 6 metres wide and 4 metres vertically. If there are gates, make sure they are working and easy to lock and unlock with a key. If there’s a bushfire in the area, leaving the gates unlocked can provide easy access in case any emergency services are needed.
LP gas cylinders
Position LP gas cylinders far from the possible direction of the bushfire. Avoid putting them under your verandah. Direct the pressure relief valve away from your house and remove flammable material from a minimal of 6 metres from the valve. Fix the cylinders to sturdy support with a brick or concrete base. As fire approaches, turn off the valve. If your cylinders are exposed to the heat, you can reduce the pressure by hosing them down using water, only if it’s safe.
- When exposed to heat, plastic pipes and hoses might melt when you urgently need them. Avoid this by:
- Burying plastic pipes 30 centimeters or more underground
- Replace plastic hose fittings with metallic ones
Majority of the houses that are destroyed in a bushfire are due to ember attack. The burning embers could travel far from the fire. Cracks, gaps, or spaces where burning embers could lodge in lower the chances of a building to withstand a bushfire. Routine property maintenance and minimal upgrades can significantly protect your home during a bushfire attack.
Gaps and Vents
Use a flexible silicon-based sealant or joining strips to seal gaps wider than 3mmatound the house. On vents constructed using corrosion-resistant aluminium, bronze or steel, install mesh flywire. You can also consult a professional for the installation of a sprinkler system in your home.
During the replacement of external cladding, install sarking that featuring flammability index of 5 and below behind the cladding. Consider using non-combustible wall materials.
Remove combustible materials under the floors and keep it clear for easy accessibility.
For side-hung doors, install draught seals, draught excluders or weather strips at the base. Use solid timber or non-combustible external doors with at least 35mm thickness.
Roof and Gutters
Use non-combustible materials to seal around roof penetration and roofing. Ensure the gaps between eaves leading to your roof space are closed in. Install sarking that features a flammability index of 5 and below, beneath the roof during maintenance. Cap the chimneys with a wire mesh. Additionally, put in place non-combustible valley leaf guards and gutters.
Evaporative and Air conditioning
Do you live within 500 metres of bushland and have an evaporative air conditioner mounted on your roof? Your home has a higher probability of ember attack. The material used to make evaporative air conditioning units filter pads is cellulose, which is a potential fuel for embers.
You can install an ember protection screen which is non-combustible to your evaporative air conditioner. External screens are more effective than internal screens.
Rooftop solar panels should leave a sufficient gap between the panel and the roof surface to avoid catching burning embers underneath the panel. If your solar system is grid-connected and you live in a high-risk area there are extra precautions you can take. If you are away from home during a bushfire, here’s a shutdown procedure to increase the safety of your house.
1. The mains switch of the solar supply to be turned off.
2. The mains switch of the normal supply should be turned off
3. Switch off your PV array isolator.
If there is a stand-alone solar system with battery storage that can be disconnected before an onset bushfire, here are steps to shut it down:
1. Turn off the solar array.
2. Switch off the inverter.
3. Use the battery shutdown procedures to make sure the battery bank is isolated.
4. If the generator has an auto-start, disable it from starting
The ordinary wire flyscreens on external windows minimize radiant heat and block burning embers. This could shatter glass and also melt the seals. Install a mesh with an aperture of 2mm and below, made from aluminium, bronze, or steel that is corrosion resistant.
Building in a Bushfire Threat Area
If the area you are building in is bushfire threat, you are in a position to evaluate your protection needs prior to building and taking measures to minimize the risk of a bushfire attack on the property. Outlined are five main bushfire management factors you should consider and how to prepare for a bushfire:
1. Location- A flat area is safest. Steer clear of woodlands and forests
2. Water-Ensure, there is an adequate supply of water. Dams and swimming pools near the house act as buffers.
3. Vehicular access-Ensure vehicular access to and from your house is easy to navigate and safe.
4. Design of development-Use non-combustible material. Metal sheeting is best. Check the Australian Standard 3959 to be in accordance with Bushfire Management Guidelines.
5. Siting of development- it should be in a place where there is minimal risk of bushfire to property. Windbreaks and extra fire protection will reduce the risk of bushfire attack.
In conclusion, there are a number of activities one can take to ultimately keep themselves and property safe. Bushfire and grassfires can be terrifying but when preparations are made as mentioned above you will have the best chance of survival. As always the best form of action is to leave early and we will cover that in another blog post. Good luck and keep safe.