Refuge on farm for people
If you choose to stay and defend your farm during a bushfire you will need somewhere to shelter as the fire passes. This is usually your house. If properly constructed, this may protect you at least for a short period of time until the fire has passed.
Features to make your house safe as a refuge are included in modern council building planning regulations, such as building to an appropriate bushfire attack level (BAL). Building to a higher BAL than the council requires can be useful despite the expense, as this gives more security when you are isolated and alone on a farm.
Over time, the required BAL level of a house in your area may increase due to climate change and emerging research on the effectiveness of BAL levels. Older houses can be improved to make them safer in a bushfire.
You need a bushfire-resistant water supply:
- large volume of renewable water (large dams, underground water etc.)
- concrete or steel tanks (not polypropylene or polypropylene-lined)
- poly pipes either buried underground or surrounded by bare earth
- back-up dams that cannot be burnt
- back-up water cartage equipment (a firefighting unit can be used).
Be aware of the water volume required during and after a fire:
- 10 000 L for emergency firefighting use at the house
- 22 500 L for a roof-top sprinkler system (if installed)
- at least 5000 – 10 000 L for emergency firefighting elsewhere on farm
- water for livestock – large volumes are required depending on livestock numbers
- water to irrigate/green house lawns to reduce fire risk – large volumes are required depending on size of lawn.
Calculate the amount of water you would need for your livestock to keep them in a refuge area for at least a week. For example, lactating cattle require an average of 80 L per day and dry ewes require 5 L per day, although these numbers double on very hot days and more can be required.
Keep the emergency water source at your house constantly full. Consider installing a solar pump or other automatic pump on your main water source and connect it to your emergency water tank. Install a ballcock and pressure-activated switch so that whenever the level drops it is filled automatically. Automating tasks like these can significantly reduce the time spent managing water supplies and lower the risk of running out of water.
Water your lawns if you have enough water. Lawns that are short and green are harder to ignite and may even protect your house from a grass fire. If you have a good independent water supply (e.g. underground water) that is not subject to water restrictions, use this to water lawns in times of fire risk.
Use a sprinkler that works well under low pressure and casts a wide irrigation footprint. Permanently installed sprinkler systems may also be practical if your system has enough pressure.
Roof-top sprinkler system
A roof-top sprinkler system can help protect your house from direct flame attack and embers. Having a sprinkler system to protect the house may mean you and your helpers can focus on protecting other farm infrastructure, put out spot fires or shelter in place more safely.
Road access/tree maintenance
Some farm roads have trees close to the road verge. When bushfires burn this vegetation in a dry year, a proportion of trees can fall as trunks burn through at the base. These can block roads or remain suspended by other trees (become ‘hung up’), at risk of falling. Clearing may require specialist skills and equipment and can delay road access to the farm.
Plan for this by clearing road verges of susceptible trees or plan for emergency clearance of trees after a fire. Factor in the cost of clearing this debris or consider relevant insurance. You should develop skills with safely operating a chainsaw so that you can safely clear some fallen trees. There are numerous private and public farm chainsaw training providers.
Learn to identify trees that are too dangerous to clear yourself or consult an arborist if unsure. Leave dangerous tree removal to professionals. If the road is council-maintained, record the council emergency number in your fire plan so you can call for help. If it is a private road, record the contact details of private tree removal specialists in your plan.
Fire-resistant farm infrastructure
When building new farm infrastructure, where possible select inflammable materials. This could include:
- using metal fence strainer posts instead of wooden ones. These will usually survive a bushfire although wires may need replacing.
- using metal cattle and sheep yards. Wooden fence posts in yards can be ignited by embers landing on top. Metal yards may also serve as a possible refuge location for livestock during a fire if they are safe.
- extending concrete slab or gravel base out from built infrastructure to keep flammable vegetation away from buildings.