How to prepare your home for bushfires

Living Well | Sue Hewitt | Images: Anne Morley | Posted on 02 November 2020

Now is the time to start preparing your home to minimise the risks this bushfire season.

On the back of last year’s devastating bushfires in Gippsland and northeast Victoria, experts warn this year’s fire threat has moved to the urban and regional fringe suburbs. 

Victoria is experiencing an unseasonal climatic change due to La Nina, a cyclic weather phenomenon bringing heavy rains to the state from now until at least December and with it accelerated grass growth.

Fire Rescue Victoria commissioner Ken Block says there is an increased risk of grass and scrub fires on the urban fringe, and potentially even in built-up areas. (More: The Melbourne suburbs at risk of bushfire.)

Pink fire haze over street in Bunyip, Victoria during 2020 Vic Bushfires

Fire Rescue Victoria commissioner Ken Block says there is an increased risk of grass and scrub fires on the urban fringe, and potentially even in built-up areas. (More: The Melbourne suburbs at risk of bushfire.)

“Grassfires are known to travel very quickly – so it’s vital anyone living, working or travelling in these areas is prepared and knows what to do if a fire starts,” he says.

“Whether you’re in the city or in the country, you need to prepare yourself and understand your fire risk this summer,” he says.

CFA acting chief officer Garry Cook warns that people should not be complacent and should have a fire plan and know the fire risk in their area.

“Get into the habit of checking fire danger ratings on the VicEmergency website or app daily to understand the fire risk in your area,” he says. 

“Plan for all situations by talking to your family and friends about your triggers to leave, where you’ll go and how you’ll get there.” 

Whether you’re in the city or in the country, you need to prepare yourself and understand your fire risk this summer.


Darren Turner, RACV’s general manager Home, says it’s important to ensure not only that your home building and contents insurance policies cover bushfires and grassfires, but also that you are not under-insured.  

Darren says four out of five Australian home owners don’t have enough insurance to cover them in a disaster. Even with the best of intentions, he says it’s all too easy to neglect to regularly update insured values of your house and contents to ensure your insurance properly reflects current full replacement values. 

He recommends using RACV’s home building calculator to estimate the cost of rebuilding or repairing your home in the event of a disaster. 

RACV’s home services trade training manager Andy Anderson says spring is an ideal time to start preparing your home for fire season.  

A good place to start is to clear away anything that could burn from around the house. “This doesn’t just mean mowing grass; you have to rake up the clippings,” he says. “Then you must move anything that is flammable away from the house, including firewood and barbecue gas bottles.”

He says ensuring gutters and downpipes are cleared of debris will help protect the home from ember attack during a fire. And for extra protection install downpipe plugs and fill them with water.  

To prevent smoke from entering your home, Andy suggests a simple DIY trick of using rubber seals with a sticky backing around doors and windows and using sand-filled door stops.

It’s also important to keep a fire blanket or working fire extinguisher in your kitchen. 

According to the CSIRO, ember attack presents the greatest threat to property in a bushfire, causing more than 90 per cent of building losses. But Bushfire Building Council of Australia CEO, Kate Cotter says it’s relatively simple and cost-effective to protect your home from embers.  

Kate Cotter's five simple ways to minimise the risk of ember attack

  • Seal your home: Embers will find the weakest point in your home during a fire so it’s important to seal your home so they have nowhere to settle. Use ember mesh screening with holes of two millimetres or smaller to seal off air-conditioning vents, pipe outlets and any gap wider than three millimetres.  
  • Clear it: Remove anything combustible, including shrubs, mulch and plastic bins, within 10 metres of the house so embers don’t ignite them and, in turn, the house.  
  • Cover up: Protect windows with toughened glass and/or fire-resistant shutters.  
  • Minimise timber: Minimise or eliminate use of external timber elements such as window and door frames, steps, decking and supports.  
  • Going under: Ensure your sub-floor is sealed off with non-combustible materials such as ember mesh.

 
Be prepared

The Red Cross says while we can't stop disasters and emergencies from happening, we can reduce how they affect us by being prepared. It suggests four simple steps to prepare for emergencies:

  • Know about your risks, where to get information, and how to manage stress 
  • Identify emergency contacts, meeting places, and people who can help 
  • Organise important documents, medical information, insurance and pet plans 
  • Pack with a list to help you survive and personal items that are important to you

Red Cross has a range of resources to help including  Get Prepared app, developed in partnership with RACV, which allows you to locate local emergency services contacts and where to find information, identify a safe meeting place for your and love ones and create checklists of what to do and what to pack. It's available on iOSAndroid and redcross.org.au/prepare.