It has been a horror season for bushfires throughout Australia and we’ve still got a few months to go before there is any respite.
We’ve been pretty lucky in all the years we’ve been travelling around Australia and through the bush, as we’ve never been really close to a fire. Sure, we had smoke all around us when we were rafting the Snowy River years ago, and then we had flames licking both sides of the track from burn-offs up north. More recently, while we were climbing out of the Wonnangatta River valley, my phone pinged; it was our VicEmergency app telling me that a bushfire was burning out of control not all that far away. We had to change our travel plans after that.
4x4 opinion: Do we need controlled burns in Australia?
So, what do you do if a bushfire comes your way while out in the scrub?
Before you jump in the 4WD for that long-awaited getaway, check what the current fire levels are at for the area you are planning to visit and check the park websites for any fire warnings, and park and track closures.
Many areas will be subject to Total Fire Bans and you need to know what you can and cannot do on a Total Fire Ban day. Understand, too, the different levels of the Fire Danger Ratings used throughout Australia – check the ‘CFA Fire Danger Ratings brochure’.
Parks, forests and reserves, if the last few years are anything to go by, will be closed due to extreme fire danger, so it pays to check before you set out and save a wasted journey. If you were thinking about a forest camp or somewhere remote surrounded by scrub and the day looks like being classed as an ‘Extreme’ or ‘Code Red’ day, I’d rethink the whole adventure.
When you are out in the scrub or travelling through fire-prone regions, listen to local radio stations for weather updates, fire bans and any active fires in your area. And if you are in mobile phone range, keep a close eye on the state’s fire service phone apps such as VicEmergency or FiresNearMe. However, please don’t rely solely on your phone and mobile reception – it’s often non-existent in the areas we tend to visit.
Finally, if you are out in the bush and get caught in a fire, here’s what you need to do:
• Call 000, if you can.
• Park off the road in a clear area away from trees.
• Face the car towards the fire.
• Stay in the car and get down below the windows, to protect you and the rest of the occupants from radiant heat.
• Turn off the engine and turn on headlights and hazard lights.
• Close windows and vents.
• Cover everyone with woollen blankets.
• Drink water.
• Cover your mouth with a damp cloth, if there is smoke.
• Stay down until the sound of the fire has passed, then carefully leave the car – remembering everything outside will be hot.
For more information, download and consult the Bush Fire Safety guide.
Play it safe and be very careful with any campfire, ensuring it is completely and utterly out even if you are just leaving it unattended for an hour or so.