Australia is one of the most bushfire-prone lands in the world. With the temperature getting warmer as we're settling into summer, the risk of bushfires is getting higher. So, how do you prepare for bushfires and how do you stay safe?
"We had our passports because we just went away six months before, so I got those. I think that's a very important thing to have. I grab my work bag, my work clothes, my husband's wallet, glasses and that was it, really. We got a green shopping bag full of stuff and nothing else."
These few things and nothing else, that's what Helen Cull and her family were able to take with them before their house burnt down six years ago in Perth. They all got out in one piece, but they lost everything. They didn't live in a bushfire-prone area, but a man using a tool on a very hot day was enough to start the fire that destroyed seventy homes.
It's important to check fire danger ratings if you live or are travelling through a bushfire-prone area.
Even if you can't always know when a bushfire will strike, there are tools to help. Ben Shephard, inspector at the New South Wales Rural Fire Service says it's important to check fire danger ratings if you live or are travelling through a bushfire-prone area.
"They vary from low-moderate at the very bottom of the scale where conditions might not be conducive to fire, right at the top end, what we know as catastrophic, and they're the worst type of day. But you need to be aware of those levels in between. It's not rare to see fires in the landscape when you see high or very high fire danger day."
The fire authorities in each state will set the fire danger rating so the best way to know them is to go on their website or download their apps to receive alerts. On top of fire ratings, it's also important to keep an eye out for total fire bans.
"We also might want to put out what we refer to as 'Total Fire Ban' and this limits the use of fire out in the open, that includes things like if you're camping, any of these butane cookers. But also what we don't want to see is any naked flames out in the open."
Every household should have a bushfire plan according to Ben Shephard.
"First and foremost, the most important thing to do is to have a discussion with each other about what you will do in the event a fire threatens. What we see quite often is people not having had that discussion and trying to make a decision at the last minute and that's when accidents occur because we need you to make a decision in the calm light of day. If your plan is to leave, what road are you going to go, where are you going to drive down, where are you going to go to? But importantly, if that road is blocked, what is your plan B, where else can you go, what other streets are you going to go down?"
Every household should have a bushfire plan.You can download a template of a bushfire plan on every state's fire authority website. Several of them have resources in different languages.
Once you made that plan, go over it with your family and review it every year. If you own a house, you can also prepare by keeping the area around your home tidy.
"And that is clearing back vegetation, keeping the lawns mowed, making sure there's nothing that we know as fuel, that is all those bits of leaves and twigs that during a fire, would actually help that fire spread. It's important that you keep your house clean and tidy because that helps in a fire event."
Being prepared is not only for house-dwellers. If you go out camping or bushwalking, Ben Shephard says you need to have a plan too.
"If you are travelling, have an idea of the fire danger rating for that area, but also if you're camping or if you're going to visit an area that might be deep in a bushfire-prone area, so deep within the forest or grassland, just have a quick look on how you might be able to get out of there if a fire was to start by educating yourself also on what fire activities there currently are in the landscape."
Despite taking all of the right measures, if a bushfire is heading your way, the best thing to do is to leave right away, if it's safe.
"Look, if the path is clear, the safest course of action has always been well away from a fire and that's going into a built-up area that is outside the bush-fire prone area. That is your safest course of action."
When she thinks about the fire that destroyed her family's home, Helen Cull is still very emotional. They lost so many things, including precious family photos. But by leaving the house quickly, she, as well as her husband, daughter, son-in-law and grand-daughter, are still here today.
"But in the end, the main thing is to get out and save yourselves. I know that, yes, if you want to be prepared, but all your important papers and put all those things together, I think that's a good idea. But when you're getting out to save your life, nothing is as important as that."
If you can't leave your house, you need to move inside and let the fire front pass through so you can be protected from the radiant heat. You can get out of the house once the fire front has passed through.
To find out more about bushfire safety, download a bushfire plan and access resources in your language, visit your state fire authority’s website.
NSW Fire Rural Service https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/
Fact sheets in 12 languages https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/resources/factsheets/translated-fact-sheets
Victoria Country Fire Authority http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/
Publications in 34 languages http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/about/other-languages/
South Australia Country Fire Service https://www.cfs.sa.gov.au/site/home.jsp
Resources in 17 languages https://www.cfs.sa.gov.au/site/resources/languages_other_than_english.jsp
Western Australia Department of Fire and Emergency Services https://www.dfes.wa.gov.au/newsandmedia/Pages/NewsHome.aspx
Translated bushfire publications in 18 languages https://www.dfes.wa.gov.au/safetyinformation/fire/bushfire/pages/translatedbushfirepublications.aspx
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services https://www.qfes.qld.gov.au/Pages/default.aspx
Northern Territory Fire and Rescue Service http://www.pfes.nt.gov.au/Fire-and-Rescue.aspx
Tasmania fire Service https://www.fire.tas.gov.au/
ACT Rural Fire Service http://esa.act.gov.au/actrfs/
If you can't find the information you need in your language, you can contact the Translating and Interpreting Service at 131 450