Cut risks this fire season

By: Andrew Hobbs

Presented by

Australia’s bushfire risk is abnormally high this season. Here’s some tips on how to reduce yours

Cut risks this fire season
While some risks can't be avoided, proper preparation can keep things from getting much worse during bushfire season. Image courtesy Getty Images.


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Across Australia’s southern states this most recent winter has been warmer and drier than average – which unfortunately means that the risk of serious bushfires is even higher than normal.

According to the Bushfire & Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre’s Southern Australia Seasonal Bushfire Outlook, the period from April to November 2018 is in the top ten hottest periods in Queensland, NSW and Victoria since records began.

While it is impossible to remove all risk of bushfires, there are some simple steps you might consider taking to help ensure you have done all you can to keep you and your property safe this summer.

1. Prepare Yourself

For the sake of personal safety, every farmer should set out a plan for whether they will abandon their property in case of fire or whether they will stay and defend – the latter being a significantly more dangerous option.

The plan must be developed together with farm workers and other parties involved, as well as your neighbours, your local community and local government authority.

If someone has a role under your plan, you should make sure they understand what that role is as well as how to respond to any variables on the day – such as if a certain route is inaccessible or certain forms of communication cannot be used.

Try to ensure that everyone involved in your property also has access to information relevant to your local area, such as local radio stations and the social media accounts of local fire and emergency services authorities.

2. Prepare Your Property 

Reducing fire fuel around farm structures, such as the house, sheds and fences, as well as powerlines, is key to managing your fire risk responsibly.

To help protect livestock, you could create a heavily grazed area with access to water where stock can be moved easily in case of high fire danger – before a fire starts. Remember to remove any gear from horses in this situation.

You may want to clear vegetation, create turning circles and signpost dead ends and water supplies for any firefighting vehicles that might visit your property – as well as taking steps to ensure your property is easily found.

Victorian Country Fire Authority (CFA) community education coordinator Kevin Sleep told Farms & Farm Machinery last year that some farmers might also consider creating buffer zones around their paddocks to slow the spread of fires by harvesting part of their crops very low to the ground.

"What that does is, if you have a 40-foot front on the front of your header and you do two laps, then there’s an 80-foot strip that has a reduced fuel load that can slow up a fire – it also may be an opportunity for the CFA to set up an attack line," he says.

"While a fire will still burn across it, it won’t burn across it at the same intensity," Sleep adds.

Check out what Kevin Sleep had to say here

3. Prepare Your Machinery

Many farm fires are caused by poorly maintained equipment and machinery, which is why it’s important to make sure it is all clean and in working order.

You may need to avoid harvesting, grinding, mowing or welding on hot, dry days, or even driving vehicles or motorbikes through dry grass or a crop to avoid the risk of fire from a hot exhaust system.

The leading cause of fires on harvesters is dust in the engine bay being ignited by the exhaust manifold, which may require you to blow down the machine regularly and check and replace bearings before they fail.

You should make sure your policy on this is communicated to everyone who works on your property – ideally through a written document that is distributed to everyone involved.

Remember to also ensure farm machinery is fitted with an approved and operational spark arrester, and make sure to switch off electric fences at times of extreme fire danger and total fire bans, as they can cause fire when sparks jump from one wire to another.

4. Prepare Your Firefighting Equipment

Sleep says it is important that farmers own their own firefighting tools and equipment – which might include rakes, shovels and fire extinguishers or knapsack spray pumps, as well as suitable protective clothing.

"Many farmers have what we call ‘private units’ – that can be either a 400-litre tank mounted on the back of a ute with a pump and hose reel or it could be a trailer-mounted unit with a similar principle," he says.

Whatever it is, it is vital that the equipment is kept ready and is easily found and operated by any person who might be looking for it in an emergency.

For example, you might want to have an operational farm firefighting unit in the paddock area where harvesting or grain handling operations are occurring.

Be aware that there may be specific guidelines around firefighting equipment that apply in your state or territory – and you should contact your local fire authority to find out more.

List of local fire authorities

Rural Fire Service (NSW):

Country Fire Authority (VIC):

Queensland Rural Fire Service:

South Australian Country Fire Service:

Northern Territory Fire and Rescue Service:

Department of Fire and Emergency Services (WA):

Tasmanian Fire Service:

ACT Fire and Rescue:

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