For New and Existing Rural Properties
Keeping bush fires at a safe distance means isolating
your home from flames, radiated heat and the flying sparks and embers that
shower ahead of a fire front under extreme fire weather conditions when
hot, strong winds stir up violent fire activity.
Whatever the size of your land, some parts will be
safer as a homesite than others. Flat ground is safer than sloping ground
and gentle slopes are safer than steep slopes. Because fire travels much
faster and burns more intensely uphill than downhill, the bottom of a long
slope is safer than the top. Slopes that face east or south are safer than
slopes that face north, north-west or west, because these are the directions
from which bush fires normally approach.
Fires cannot burn where there is no fuel, therefore
less fuel is better. It is important to make sure that there is an area
of reduced fuel between the house and bush from which bush fires traditionally
approach. Where possible, take advantage of existing fuel-free zones such
as roadways, rivers or bare ground to provide a fuel break between your
home and any unmanaged grass or bushland.
In bush fire prone areas, whether open grassland
or timbered country, airborne embers are responsible for a high proportion
of property damage. Blown ahead of the main fire by strong winds, they
ignite new fires - a process called "spotting". It is preferable to place
your home so that any forested areas are to the south and east of the site.
A wind-break of high-moisture-content trees on the hazard side of your
homesite will also help shield your home from radiated heat and flying
sparks and embers.
House Design and Construction
Burning embers blown ahead of a bush fire are the
most common cause of bush fire damage to houses. Burning material can lodge
in cracks or crevices, blow into the roof space through openings, get underneath
a house that has an open space between the floor and the ground, or even
get inside a house through open or badly fitting doors or windows. The
strong winds that accompany bush fires can make the situation worse by
dislodging roofing allowing embers to get into the house and set it alight
on the inside.
Keep the exterior design of your house simple to
avoid creating hard-to-get-at spots where debris, such as leaves and twigs
can get trapped on the roof, against the walls or under the floor. These
spots are likely to trap embers during a fire and are often the source
of structural fires when the accumulated debris ignites.
To reduce the risk of embers getting underneath a
house, it is safest to build on a reinforced concrete slab, especially
if the slab is at ground level. Where the site is on a slope, it is safer
to set the house into the slope than to support it on posts. If the slab
is above ground level, it should rest on non-flammable supports, and the
space between the ground and the floor should be bricked up. Timber should
not be used at ground level. Any timber used in raised floors and flooring
supports should be treated to a fire-resistant standard.
Fit vents under the floor and in walls, eaves and
roofs with spark-proof metal screens. Metal plates that can be fixed into
place to cover vents in times of bush fire emergency will add an extra
level of safety. Fit external hinged doors with a spark-proof metal screen
door that covers the entire area so that burning material cannot blow in
at the top or bottom. Similarly, fit screens to all windows and other openings.
Avoid decorative timber work such as trellises and
latticework on the exposed sides of the building. Timber balconies and
verandahs can also trap windborne sparks, so keep them to a minimum.
Roof design can affect the risk of bush fire damage.
For example, a one-pitch roof is the easiest to protect. Roof valleys and
features like dormer windows and skylights should be avoided if possible
because they can trap both flammable debris and sparks. If you do include
these types of windows in your design, they should be made of wired or
hollow glass in steel frames. This will reduce the risk of flames penetrating
through the window space if trapped debris does ignite during a bush fire.
Spark-proof all chimneys and fit internal dampers
to them. Fit metal screens to your fireplace openings to prevent any sparks
that may blow down the chimney during a bush fire from igniting the inside
of your home.
Roof spaces cause particular problems. Design attics,
ceilings and roof spaces with care. Ceiling access holes should be conveniently
positioned and big enough to allow easy access into the ceiling space during
bush fires, to extinguish small fires that may have been ignited by ember
Steel roofing material is the safest under extreme
bush fire conditions but corrugations in the roofing material can allow
sparks to enter the roof space. Slate or tiled roofs need a supporting
structure that is able to keep sparks out and can withstand high temperatures.
The winds that accompany bush fires can be very intense, so it is important
that tiles are fixed firmly in place to reduce the risk of them becoming
dislodged and allowing the entry of embers. Wood shingles and bituminous
roofing are the most vulnerable roofing materials and should not be used.
Gutters can be a particular problem because they
tend to collect leaves and other debris that can easily ignite during bush
fires. This means that gutters need to be cleared regularly, and you may
prefer to use well-designed leafless guttering instead of traditional open
guttering. Gutters should also be designed and fixed so that fire cannot
spread from them if collected debris ignites. Gutters should be capable
of holding water once downpipes have been sealed. Consider installing ground-level
rubble drain collectors instead of fitting gutters, (where council regulations
permit, or where collecting drinking water is not required).
Downpipes can be blocked in many ways including commercially
available devices. Flooding of gutters can help provide additional protection
for your house during times of bush fire attack. Water overflow from gutters
can also give some extra protection.
A fuel reduction plan for your property
Fire can not burn where there is no fuel. The principle
of all fire prevention planning on farms is: reduce the fuel and the threat
is reduced. All assets - including buildings, fences and fodder reserves
- need to have wide areas around them where the ground fuels of dry grass,
dead branches and fallen leaves are reduced or cleared.
Plan to complete your annual fuel reduction program
before the bush fire season begins (typically October 1 - March 31). Consider
these points in making your plan:
Making fuel breaks Various methods can be used
to create and maintain effective fuel breaks on your property. These include:
Take into account the prevailing winds experienced in
your area during the bush fire danger season.
Place major fuel breaks on the northern and western
boundaries of the area you want to protect. You may place less emphasis
on the other sides, but they still need fuel reduced areas.
Establish wide lawns or cleared and mown areas around
Completely surround all farm buildings with well cleared
Take advantage of existing fuel breaks such as roadways,
tracks and railway lines. If possible, extend the benefit these breaks
provide by cutting, slashing or burning a strip of ground on each side
Make use of dams and natural fuel breaks, such as creeks,
rivers and swamps.
Don't rely on narrow fuel breaks to stop the fire. In
extreme fire conditions, windborne embers can blow across even wide fuel
Properly placed and well maintained fuel breaks will
also improve access for fire fighting units.
Ploughing and harrowing can produce excellent breaks
if established early in spring and later workings can kill all vegetation.
However these may need constant maintenance. Also, the loose soil may erode
in steep areas, particularly where there is high rainfall and strong winds.
Heavy stocking of selected areas throughout the
spring is a very effective way to reduce fuel around buildings and fodder
reserves. This method can also be used to create low risk areas at strategic
points around the property where livestock can be located for protection
Slashing or Mowing
Slashing is an economical method of fuel break preparation.
To be most effective, the cut material must be removed or allowed to rot
down well before summer starts. As sheep prefer eating mown areas, you
can maintain slashed breaks by grazing. Slashing may leave grass in rows
thus increasing fuel in some places. "Trittering" is similar to slashing
but leaves the fuel where it is cut.
Summer fodder crops
Green crops, such as Lucerne, provide excellent
fuel breaks. A household vegetable garden will help protect your home.
Plant fire resistant species around particular assets such as houses. A
list of fire resistant species is available from your local Fire Control
Officer or the Department of Bush Fire Services. Choose plant species carefully.
Local nurseries will assist you.
Non-residual herbicides can be sprayed onto areas
where other methods of fuel reduction may be difficult, undesirable or
even dangerous, such as around buildings. Because they are only effective
on actively growing plants, use them selectively after the autumn break
or at the end of winter.
Burning off is a cheap and simple method of removing
unwanted litter and fire hazards. However, it must be planned carefully
and carried out with extreme caution at the right time. Otherwise there
is a real danger that the burning off will get out of control. More rural
wild fires result from escapes from burning off work than from any other
single cause. Planning for the use of fire must ensure that it will do
Using fire safely
Efficiently, e.g.: removing excess tree litter or creating
part of a system of fuel breaks;
Safely: control of the fire is not left to chance
Legally: is a permit required? Have neighbors been informed?
Is burning permitted in your council area?
Fire is a very versatile and economical land management
tool. Experienced, professional farmers can use fire safely, just as they
use any other tool, when they understand how it behaves and what factors
cause changes in its behavior. Like other tools, fire should never be taken
for granted. Its use must be planned carefully, patrolled constantly and
extinguished immediately if any doubt about the fires controllability occurs.
The size of the fire must never exceed your ability to control it.
Using fire safely depends on being able to control
it. How controllable a fire is depends on its intensity:
Fundamentally, if you double the amount of fuel you
will double the rate of spread. Consequently, the intensity of a fire will
be quadrupled. Conversely, if the fuel is halved, so too is the rate of
spread, and the intensity quartered. Your Fire Control Officer and
your local Bush Fire Brigade can supply detailed advice on likely fire
The heat yield of bush and grassland fuels is the same.
When the amount of fuel is increased the heat generated by the fire is
The amount of dry, available fuel will increase the
intensity of a fire.
When fuel levels are high the rate of spread of a fire
will increase. Topographical features such as the degree of a slope and
aspect can increase or decrease the speed of a fire.
By knowing the three factors that determine the
intensity of fire, it is possible to write a "prescription" for applying
fire as a tool designed to achieve a specific objective. The prescription
will set out, within relatively precise limits, how intense the fire will
be. The aim is to monitor fuel and weather conditions and choose a day
to burn when the fuel is dry enough to burn efficiently (but not so intensely
that it cannot be controlled), and when temperature, humidity and wind
conditions will be helpful to the burn.
It is easier to indicate conditions under which burning
should not be done, than to give firm guidelines for safe and efficient
burning under all circumstances. For example, it is not safe to burn on
any day that is very hot, very windy, or when the humidity is very low.
On the other hand, as long as the fuel is not very dry, a moderate day
with a light breeze might provide just the right conditions.
Before you burn
No matter how safe the conditions appear to be,
it is essential to do a carefully-planned test burn before undertaking
a full-scale burning operation. A test burn will give a good indication
of the likely intensity of the final burn, and this will show how controllable
the fire will be.
Choose the site of the test burn carefully so that
it includes features typical of the whole area that you plan to burn -
features like the type of fuels to be burnt (grass, stubble, tree litter,
weeds), the assets you wish to protect (fences, trees etc.) and the terrain
(slope is especially important.) Enclose the whole test burn site within
a bare area. Additional fuel breaks should surround shade trees, timber
fencing and other assets.
Burn against the breeze as this will make control
easier by decreasing fire intensity. Position helpers, armed with fire
fighting equipment, in safe spots from which they can see any spot-overs
or escapes and extinguish them immediately.
If your test burn leaves room for doubt about your
ability to control the fire if you went ahead with your full-scale burn,
postpone it. Remember that the test burn fire would have become more intense
once it had access to larger areas of fuel.
When you decide that it is safe to proceed with the
full-scale prescribed burn you have planned, remember that the planning
and safety measures you organized for the test burn must be scaled up accordingly.
Your local council should be able to give you any advice you need about
safety issues - ask for the Fire Control Officer, or contact the Captain
of your rural bush fire brigade.
Notify your neighbors that you intend to burn. Give
them as much notice as you can. They may even be able to assist you with
When is a permit required
Under normal conditions, you will need a permit
from your local council for any burning done during the State-wide Bush
Fire Danger Season, October 1 to March 31. Sometimes the Bush Fire Danger
Season begins earlier or finishes later in certain areas, so check with
the council first if you are unsure whether a permit is needed.
Permits require that someone be in attendance at
the fire until it is extinguished. This is not only a legal requirement,
it is common sense. It is important to take great care to extinguish a
fire fully, because otherwise smoldering areas may re-ignite and cause
damage to your property the property of others.
Councils may put other special conditions on permits.
Permits may be canceled if weather conditions change so as to make it unacceptably
dangerous to light fires. If a Total Fire Ban comes into force, you are
prohibited from lighting any fires in the open, and permits are automatically
canceled. Read the permit carefully before proceeding.
In some council areas back yard burning is prohibited.
Check with your council's Fire Control Officer or your local bush fire
brigade to clarify the situation.
Protecting your assets
The loss of farm animals can be most easily prevented
by preparing and maintaining fuel-reduced areas onto which stock can be
moved and held during a fire. This means planning to use fallow paddocks,
well-grazed smaller paddocks or raceways, irrigated pasture or summer crop
areas. Stock yards and holding paddocks must be fuel reduced, and, where
possible, have shade and water available to provide emergency protection
areas for valuable breeding stock.
Fence lines are vulnerable to damage by wild fire
and complete protection is not possible. Damage can be minimized by having
fuel breaks alongside fence lines and bare gaps at intervals underneath
them. For new fences, use fire resistant materials and construction methods,
such as using staples instead of boring holes in fence posts or use steel
posts where possible.
Hay stacks, hay sheds and silos must be protected
- the reserves they contain may be the only stock feed available after
a large fire. Surround your fodder reserves with an area of bare ground
at least five meters wide. Maintain a fuel-reduced strip 20 meters wide
or more around this. Never attempt to burn off around fodder reserves:
use other fuel-reduction methods, such as slashing, grazing, or spraying
Farm buildings and sheds need to be protected by
wide fuel-reduced areas - as wide and as clear as possible. Keep trees
from hanging over roofs. Keep gutters clean by regularly removing collected
leaves and twigs. Where possible, stop sparks from getting into roofs and
under raised sheds by boxing in eaves and extending wall cladding to ground
level, at least on the northern and western sides. Keep wall cladding in
good condition and maintain a tidy layout around all buildings.
A landscaped garden, vegetable gardens, mown lawns,
wide paths and paving all provide fuel breaks. Shelter belts of large deciduous
trees and shrubs can deflect and catch wind-borne sparks: choose tree species
that do not ignite readily or burn fiercely. Do not allow vegetation to
climb up walls, and do not allow trees to hang over roofs.
Keep the whole area around the home tidy and clear
of long, dry grass and combustible rubbish. Place the wood heap well away
from walls and carports.
The survival of your home depends largely on preventing
sparks from entering through doors and windows and under roofs. Protect
the windows with screens, seal all doors and external openings, keep gutters
clean and install a good garden sprinkler system.
Protecting your home during a bush fire
With your fire prevention work properly completed,
you will need to decide whether to stay with your home or evacuate in the
event of bush fire. Whatever you decide, plan for it before the bush fire
danger period begins. When action is required, follow your plan - lives
are most often lost during unplanned, last minute evacuations. Generally
there is no need to evacuate provided the proper precautions have been
taken. Being there can often make all the difference because spot fires
can be extinguished before they take hold and cause serious property damage.
If instructed to evacuate by the police, go as directed.
An adequate, reliable water supply is critical.
An independent reserve of at least 22,000 litres must be held in storage,
whether it comes from a bore, dam or swimming pool. You will also need
a reliable means of supplying water to outlets and hoses under pressure.
The electricity supply cannot be relied up on during a bush fire emergency
so it is essential to have a portable pump coupled to a diesel or petrol
motor. You should also make provisions for the rapid filling of fire fighting
tanks - an overhead tank is ideal for this purpose.
If your farm is large you should have your own fire
fighting unit, with its own pump and motor, hoses and water tank. Keep
this unit regularly maintained, with a careful check before the bush fire
danger period begins, so that it is ready to use and easy to start during
a bush fire emergency.
When a fire approaches, dress to protect yourself.
Choose loose-fitting overalls, or a long sleeved shirt and long pants.
Natural fabrics such as cotton or wool should be worn. Never wear synthetics.
Wear wool or cotton socks, strong shoes or boots, and gloves, hat and goggles
if available. Above all, cover up. You must protect yourself from radiant
heat. Everything you wear, including underwear, must be made of natural
An extension to the garden watering system can be
extremely valuable in defending the house. For example, large ground sprinklers
placed on the windward side so that the roof eaves and verandahs can be
kept wet will provide excellent protection in addition to other measures.
Sprinkler systems may need additional water supplies.
The greatest cause of confusion during a bush fire
emergency is lack of communication, when people likely to be affected by
fire do not know what is happening. To keep you up to date so you can make
well-informed decisions, use the local radio network - CB listening sets
or public radio station. Because electricity may be cut during a bush fire,
your radios will need to be battery powered. Keep them ready for use throughout
the bush fire danger period.
The greatest threat to your home will come from
ember attack. Embers and debris will be thrown ahead of the fire for approximately
30 minutes before the fire front reaches the property. During this period
you may remain outside extinguishing spot fires. It is also possible that
spot fires will start inside the house. Pay particular attention to roof
The second stage of ember attack will last for five
to ten minutes as the fire front passes the property. Take shelter inside
your home taking hoses and plastic tap fittings with you. This stage will
be very hot and noisy with low visibility due to the smoke. This will be
the most frightening period. It is important you stick to your plan and
remain calm until the fire front passes. Again, be alert for spot fires
The final stage of ember attack will last for up
to eight hours. Once the fire front has passed go outside and extinguish
any fires. Continue to monitor both inside and outside the property extinguishing
any fires that may start. If you evacuate the property and return during
this phase you may still save your home as many structures are lost to
ember attack during this period.
When A Bush Fire Approaches
As bush fire approaches final preparation work needs
to be carried out. Dress in protective clothing and listen to the radio
for news of the fire's progress. Wet down the house and garden, particularly
on the side from which the fire will approach. Turn on sprinkler system
if you have one. Stop downpipes and fill gutters with water. Fill baths,
sinks and buckets with water. You will need this for firefighting and drinking.
Place wet towels and blankets against gaps under doors and windows. Close
heavy curtains and shutters. After the fire has passed patrol your property
and put out any spot fires paying particular attention to roof spaces.
Preventing farm fires
Careful housekeeping practices can help reduce the
risk of a fire starting on your farm.
Rural fire brigades
Remove any tree branches that could make contact with
power lines on your property.
Restrict the use of farm machinery on days of high fire
risk and total fire ban days.
Establish a bare earth fuel break between your land
and any railway easement or roadway.
Establish no-smoking zones around high-hazard areas
on your property, e.g.: near hay stacks, around fuel sheds.
Insist on high safety standards for burning domestic
rubbish, disposing of ashes, and using the barbecue.
Insist that all fires are thoroughly extinguished.
Insist on high standards of maintenance for farm vehicles
and power driven machinery.
Fix effective spark guards to all incinerators, chimneys
Check and maintain electrical, gas and oil-fired installations
Remove long grass from around all buildings and from
alongside vehicle tracks and driveways.
Welding, cutting and grinding are high fire risk jobs
which must only be done under the conditions set out by law - these include
proper clearance of the surrounding space, and provision of a water supply
for fire fighting.
Store petrol and diesel fuel supplies and hazardous
chemicals in single purpose buildings in cleared areas isolated from other
The NSW Rural Fire Service is responsible for the
co-ordination of bush fire fighting and bush fire prevention throughout
the State and for the prevention, mitigation and suppression of bush and
other fires in local governement areas, (or parts of areas), and other
parts of the State constituted as rural fire districts. National Parks
and Wildlife Service, State Forests and NSW Fire Brigade assist in this
Volunteer rural fire brigade members play the major
role in fighting fires in almost 90% of NSW. There are approximately 2,500
brigades with a total of around 70,000 members. The majority of brigades
are formed and organised by local councils. The number of brigades in a
council area can vary from just one to as many as 45.
Each brigade has a Captain and one or more Deputy
Captains. Brigades also have officers such as a Secretary and members who
are responsible for equipment, training, first aid, communications and
Brigades hold regular meetings, training sessions
and fire prevention activities such as controlled burning exercises and
trail or firebreak construction and maintenance. Many also hold regular
community education exercises with schools and community groups, giving
their time voluntarily for the safety and well being of others.
The role of rural fire brigades now encompasses more
than just fighting bush fires. Members are regularly called upon to attend
road accidents and assist police in search and rescue operations. Rural
fire brigades are also responsible for protecting buildings in over 1,200
towns and villages.
Brigade members come from all walks of life. Brigades
are constantly seeking men and women from the community willing to join
and train as firefighters and support personnel. For further information,
contact the Fire Control Officer at your local council, or contact the
NSW Rural Fire Service.