This summer, thousands of Australians will head for the beaches and the outback to make the most of the holiday break. Unfortunately, summer holidays also coincide with periods of high fire danger, so it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and know what to do if you find yourself in an area threatened by bushfire.
If you’re driving in an area of high fire danger, the first thing to remember is not to be the cause of a fire yourself. Never throw cigarette butts out the window and if you stop at a picnic site to boil the kettle, only light a fire if it is not a total fire ban day and always make sure it is completely extinguished before you leave the area.
Be aware of your surroundings. Read any signs you come across warning of high fire danger, and if you suspect there is a fire in the area, listen to the local radio for updates. If you encounter smoke across the road, stop and assess the situation before driving through it. If it’s safe to do so and you have no choice but to continue, turn your lights on, wind up your windows, turn off the air conditioning and drive slowly, as other drivers will have difficulty seeing you.
If you are off-road, make sure your vehicle is in good condition and you have plenty of water with you. Motoring bodies and car insurance companies also recommend you carry a first aid kit and woollen blankets whenever exploring off-road in a fire prone area. And before you go off-road, there are a couple of things you need to take care of:
- Call your auto insurance company to confirm that you are covered for off-road driving conditions
- Make sure someone knows your route and where you are going
- Purchase a good map of the area or have it displayed on your GPS
If you are surprised by an approaching bushfire, take the following emergency actions to protect yourself and your family:
- Seek shelter in an enclosed building (such as a brick shower block if it is a camping ground) that is away from the path of danger. If there is no enclosed building, then seek shelter in your car, ensuring that you are well clear of the direct path of the fire.
- Park in a cleared area away from long grass and trees and facing towards the approaching fire, ensuring that you can accurately monitor the direction of the fire.
- Wind up your windows, put on your headlights and shelter below the window line, covering yourself with blankets, jackets, floor mats or whatever is at hand.
- If you don’t have a car to shelter in, look for any rocky outcrops or road embankments you can shelter behind or low lying creek beds, animal burrows or dams.
- Avoid slopes or hilltops and never put yourself above a fire.
Bushfire is a natural part of the Australian landscape and, just like any other natural event, it can be dangerous if we don’t take adequate precautions. Being prepared, staying aware of our surroundings and keeping a level head in an emergency are the best ways to ensure you stay safe around bushfires this summer.