Fire season preparation
This section deals with the things you should do in the weeks leading up to and during the fire season. Your preparations will be based on the fire plan you prepared in the previous section.
Read your farm fire plan
Read and discuss your plan with staff and family to refresh everyone on the details. Make any final updates for the season. Assign responsibilities and set completion dates (e.g. for slashing and mowing around infrastructure).
Be ready to implement your farm fire plan if needed.
Prepare your home
Prepare your home for the fire season:
- mow lawns
- empty gutters
- remove vegetation and flammable materials from around the house
- check gutter plugs work
- make sure hoses and firefighting unit are available around the house and can connect to your emergency water supply
- if you have a rooftop sprinkler system, check it is working or service it.
Check equipment and fill water
Get out your fire units and check they are fully operational. If anything needs a service (e.g. fire pumps), schedule a date to complete this by and who will be responsible.
Locate and check all your equipment, including personal protective equipment.
Check your water supply and top up the emergency supply continually throughout the fire season.
Assess and manage fuel loads
If the fire season has started, it is likely too late to do any prescribed burning to manage fuel loads. However, you can reduce pasture length through grazing and by controlling fuel around infrastructure (you could even use a ride-on lawnmower).
Look at the fuel loads in adjoining bush to assess any risks so you are informed and mentally prepared. The Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment has produced a good guide to assessing fuel loads.
If you have a very good source of water, such as an underground spring or bore, keep your lawns watered in times of bushfire risk. A short green lawn has low flammability and risk of ignition, so keeping the lawn around your house well watered will reduce the risk of spot fires starting close to the house and allow you to focus more of your attention on other areas during a fire.
Check information sources regularly during the fire season. A fire app can provide key weather information and warnings with automated notifications.
Bureau of Meteorology fire weather warnings
Keep an eye on the weather through the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) website. BOM issues fire weather warnings each afternoon for the following day when forecast weather conditions are likely to be dangerous. Check the relevant BOM webpage regularly each afternoon in the fire season.
Fire danger rating
Check your region’s fire danger rating each day if the weather looks hot and dry. This should be found on your state or territory fire authority’s web site, where each region is listed. There are four fire danger ratings. These indicate the possible consequences of a fire if it were to start, with higher ratings
linked to more dangerous conditions. A rating of extreme means that you should consider leaving unless well prepared and with an appropriate refuge. Catastrophic warnings indicate that leaving early is your only safe option if you are in a bushfire-prone area.
Your fire authority will issue total fire bans when it is illegal to have any fire out in the open. This includes operating some farm equipment in the open where it could start a fire (e.g. an angle grinder). Fire authorities usually recommend against carrying out activities that are dangerous when there is a total fire ban, even if some are still legal. Check your state or territory’s rules.
Fire warning app
Download the fire warning app from your local fire authority onto your phone. Set the appropriate alerts, such as a warning zone close to your farm. This will issue you an alert if a fire is reported within a specified distance of your farm. Your app will also have information about total fire bans and fire danger ratings in your region.
Bushfire warning levels
All state and territory fire authorities use a bushfire warning system that is consistent for all emergencies across Australia. When a bushfire starts, one of these three warning levels is put on it, indicating the level of threat the fire poses.
The ABC Emergency website has a good description of what these warnings mean.
Self-sufficiency and seeking assistance
When going about your daily activity, do several things:
- When conducting your weekly shop, consider whether you have 1–2 weeks’ food supply and other necessities at home.
- Fill a jerry can with fuel so you can run a generator or fire pump. Most farm vehicles run on diesel but remember that your petrol supply for small equipment is important, too.
- Speak to capable friends and family who may be able to help you in the event of a fire. Discuss the specifics of when, where and how they could help. You will need at least two able bodied people to safely react to a fire on your farm or even just to shelter at your house – you cannot do this alone. Their safety is also an important responsibility for you. Remember that multiple properties can come under threat from fire at the same time, and you may lose helpers who need to return home to defend their own properties.
Risky activities on farm
Some farm activities pose high fire risk, including grain harvesting, slashing and using power tools such as angle grinders and welders.
Carefully assess whether it is safe to be using risky equipment. Check fire bans and local restrictions, carry fire extinguishers and routinely take care. There is a grain harvesting code of practice to assist grain producers to assess harvesting risk.
The Victorian government provides information on how to operate machinery safely (e.g. using spark arrestors) to avoid starting fires.