Fire Safety in Australia: Prepare, stay and defend or go early.

As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, Queensland had been the subject of several fire warnings recently. But the rains of Monday which have continued sporadically throughout the week have put an end to that for now.

But fires in Australia are a major problem and just as you can measure the pollen count or the humidity in an area, you can also assess the risk of fire.

What triggers a fire warning red alert?

As I understand it, there are three conditions that need to be in place for a fire to start. Firstly, there must be something that can burn, (the fuel), second there must be heat and third is wind, particularly when there is a change in its direction and temperature.

A good analogy is lighting a cigarette. The cigarette itself is the “something to burn”, the cigarette lighter is the heat and inhaling on the cigarette as you light it is the wind.

Here in Australia, the fuel is the bush after prolonged periods without significant rainfall. Light rain is no good; the ground can dry out within two to three hours. The heat, well we get plenty of days where the temperature is 30°C or above.

Changes in wind direction and temperature are not uncommon in Australia or in California and the South of France, the world’s other major bushfire hot spots.

Whilst I used lighting the cigarette as an analogy, the reality is putting out the cigarette is the cause and start of many a bush fire. Some smokers really do toss their cigarette butts out of the car window in these conditions.

That is incredibly stupid!

Prepare, stay and defend or go early.

That’s the motto here in the event of a fire. If a fire breaks out in or around your home you should either stay and defend it or leave straight away. It is up to each property occupier to make that decision unless the fire service order an evacuation. If you are going to stay and defend, some prior preparation helps.

The Safehome Service

The Queensland Fire and Rescue Service or “firies” as they are called here, offer “Safehome”, an initiative to help householders eliminate any fire and safety hazards around the home. The service is free and a real fire fighter will turn up at your home to check it out. The visit lasts around 45 minutes and it is free.

I had mine on Monday after several cancelled appointments. On or around the time of previous appointments, I would receive a telephone call saying “Sorry mate, we’re on our way to an emergency. Can we reschedule?”

When they did turn up, they were in a real fire engine.

NOT a real fire engine

NOT a real fire engine

What I learned:

  • It goes without saying, have plenty of fire alarms around the house. But what I didn’t know was once a year change all the batteries in those fire alarms. Pick a date; over at the fire station they use April 1.
  • Buy a fire extinguisher and read the instructions so that you know how to use it. When a fire is raging, that is not the time to be reading the tin to see what to do!
  • Buy a fire blanket. When using a fire blanket, for example to snuff out an oven fire, wrap the blanket round your arms before you drape it over the fire. This stops you getting burns.
  • Check that your outdoor water hoses and water lines can reach the full perimeter of your house, so that you can reach any small fire that may break out and extinguish it before it gets out of hand.
  • Clean your gutters, because it’s these that catch fire when burning ashes land on your roof and once the roof is on fire, you are in big trouble.
  • Tumble dryers are the biggest cause of household fires. Never leave a tumble dryer on when you are out of the house; always keep the filter clean; always allow your tumble dryer to go through the full cooling procedure, failure to do so could result in a fire starting anything up to two hours after the drying cycle has finished.
  • If you need to smash a window to escape, always smash it from the top of the window pane. This allows the broken glass to fall downwards below your arm, rather than you putting your arm through broken glass. Then before exiting through the window, wrap your body in a blanket so that you do not cut yourself.
  • If you have downlights embedded in the ceiling, get and fit downlight guards.

I found the visit very helpful, and I have already bought two fire blankets and two fire extinguishers at a total cost of around $140. And I’ve earmarked some real fun for me this weekend, climbing up onto the roof to check the gutters.

For the latest information on both fire and weather warnings in Australia, visit:

Fire Weather Warningfireman

National Warnings Summary

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