Saint Albans Village Homepage

Fire Protection...
For New and Existing Rural Properties 

House Siting
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 attack. 

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: 

  1. Take into account the prevailing winds experienced in your area during the bush fire danger season. 
  2. 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. 
  3. Establish wide lawns or cleared and mown areas around your home. 
  4. Completely surround all farm buildings with well cleared fuel breaks. 
  5. 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 of them. 
  6. Make use of dams and natural fuel breaks, such as creeks, rivers and swamps. 
  7. Don't rely on narrow fuel breaks to stop the fire. In extreme fire conditions, windborne embers can blow across even wide fuel breaks. 
  8. Properly placed and well maintained fuel breaks will also improve access for fire fighting units. 
Making fuel breaks Various methods can be used to create and maintain effective fuel breaks on your property. These include: 

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 during fires. 

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 
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 the job: 

  1. Efficiently, e.g.: removing excess tree litter or creating part of a system of fuel breaks; 
  2. Safely: control of the fire is not left to chance 
  3. Legally: is a permit required? Have neighbors been informed? Is burning permitted in your council area? 
Using fire safely
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. 

Fire intensity
Using fire safely depends on being able to control it. How controllable a fire is depends on its intensity: 

  1. 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 increased. 
  2. The amount of dry, available fuel will increase the intensity of a fire. 
  3. 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. 
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 behavior.

Prescribed burning 
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 your burn.

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.

Fodder reserves
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 with herbicides.

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. 

Water supply 
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.

Personal Protection 
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 fibers. 

Sprinkler Systems 
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. 

Ember Attack 
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 spaces. 

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 inside. 

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. 

  1. Remove any tree branches that could make contact with power lines on your property. 
  2. Restrict the use of farm machinery on days of high fire risk and total fire ban days. 
  3. Establish a bare earth fuel break between your land and any railway easement or roadway. 
  4. Establish no-smoking zones around high-hazard areas on your property, e.g.: near hay stacks, around fuel sheds. 
  5. Insist on high safety standards for burning domestic rubbish, disposing of ashes, and using the barbecue. 
  6. Insist that all fires are thoroughly extinguished. 
  7. Insist on high standards of maintenance for farm vehicles and power driven machinery. 
  8. Fix effective spark guards to all incinerators, chimneys and exhausts. 
  9. Check and maintain electrical, gas and oil-fired installations regularly. 
  10. Remove long grass from around all buildings and from alongside vehicle tracks and driveways. 
  11. 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. 
  12. Store petrol and diesel fuel supplies and hazardous chemicals in single purpose buildings in cleared areas isolated from other farm buildings. 
Rural fire brigades 
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 role.

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 maintenance. 

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.

HOME to Fire News

Copyright © 1999, All rights reserved
NSW Rural Fire Service