When is it time to go?
According to CFA research, residents typically do one of three things when confronted with high-risk days and bushfires threatening their area:
Whether it’s the night before or the morning of, prevention of a disaster is always preferable over managing the situation and having to make important decisions quickly.
“Leaving early is the safest option to protect yourself and your family and it means leaving the area before a fire starts – not when you can see flames or smell smoke,” says CFA Chief Officer Jason Heffernan.
While leaving early is the best choice, unfortunately, as many as one third of respondents to CFA surveys in bushfire-prone areas have said they would leave as soon as they were aware of a fire that could threaten their town. Less than one in 10 people plan to leave early on days of high fire danger.
Wait and see
As we have seen year after year, when driven by strong winds through dry vegetation, fires move quickly across the landscape and new fires can arise seemingly out of nowhere, and often ahead of the main fire front. These fires can be so intense that it is no longer safe to be in the area. But many people still ‘wait and see’ how a fire develops before deciding to leave.
“Deciding to ‘wait and see’ and having uncertainty about when to leave leads to late decision-making and late evacuation,” says Mr Bourne.
“This increases the likelihood of injuries – or worse – from being caught in the fire and on roads surrounded by smoke and flames and blocked by fallen trees.”
Many households have pets or other animals, such as horses and livestock, that they will need to plan and prepare for in the event of an emergency. If the decision to relocate is left too late, it can have dire consequences.
“Leaving early means it’s easier to make good, rational decisions and avoid panic, becoming trapped and risking serious injury or death. Waiting to leave means a drive that normally takes a few minutes could take hours, or you may not be able to get out at all,” says Chief Officer Heffernan.
Stay and defend
Many people’s properties are their livelihoods, and their possessions are priceless, so it’s understandable that some would want to defend their property from harm. However, in many cases, fighting mother nature is just simply not a fight that you can win.
As a fire grows in size and intensity, the ability to defend a property safely and successfully is dramatically reduced.
According to the CFA, there are three key factors that will determine an owner’s success when defending a property:
- The environment – there must be low fuel loads with grass and gardens well-tended, suitable vegetation, and structures designed and built to meet bushfire codes, with access to the right equipment, and no equipment failures on the day
- Fire behaviour – fires must remain at very low intensity for successful defence
- Human capabilities – very high physical and emotional strength is needed to meet the challenges ‘in the moment’ and to operate all the necessary equipment, with no injuries
“Any of these conditions can change rapidly during a fire – leading to serious injuries or worse,” says Mr Bourne.
Even if residents feel they can ‘stay and defend’ a property, everyone should know their ‘triggers’ for when to leave and have plans in place for their safe evacuation. Being able to leave safely depends on being prepared with your relocation kit, having somewhere safe to go, a safe route to travel, having arrangements in place for pets and animals, and getting out early.