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Is this our worst bushfire outlook on record?

Australia has faced catastrophic bushfires since 2019's early spring, with tragic loss of life, millions of farm acreage destroyed, hundreds of lost homes, and devastation to wildlife and livestock.

Australia has faced catastrophic bushfires since 2019's early spring, with tragic loss of life, millions of farm acreage destroyed, hundreds of lost homes, and devastation to wildlife and livestock. The NSW Government declared a state of emergency in November, and 575 schools and TAFE campuses needed to temporarily closed. Aged Care homes were placed on alert in the state, and across the north and south borders an unprecedented bush fire season continues to loom.


Fuel for thought

Call 000 if you see smoke, flame or embers

Australia's drought of three years looks set to continue; aggravating fire risks for a landscape that is already severely parched. Fire authorities and services follow the warnings of The Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC's Australian Seasonal Bushfire Outlook which shows the 2019–20 fire season as a perfect potential fuel mix of dry foliage and soil with low moisture content. This means the landscape in many states is ripe for an active fire season ahead.

Above average temperatures have remained consistent for some years, and 2019/2020 shows the global warming trends have prevailed. Australia is a country that experiences extreme heatwaves combined with gusty winds. Vegetation in warmer temperatures therefore dries more quickly and becomes fuel for a potential bushfire. The Bureau of Meteorology warns that other seasonal threats such as thunderstorms which trigger lightning during the cyclone season may ignite fires.

Here is a compact version of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC's Australian Seasonal Bushfire Outlook wrap of the fire season by states. It presents a compelling reason to prepare now.

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Queensland

Low rainfall and severe water shortages is resulting in below average soil moisture. There is a significant increase in the amount of fuel build-up and fire potential in some forested areas.


New South Wales

Extremely dry weather conditions have impacted NSW ahead of the 2019–20 fire season with some areas suffering through the driest conditions on record. There have been record lows for rainfall; restricting water resources. Over half of NSW is drought affected, and there are intense drought and catastrophic fire conditions predicted.


ACT

Fuel flammability is a high risk early in the fire season due to drought conditions. Heatwaves and dust storms have the potential to hinder bushfire detection.


Victoria

Underlying dryness persisting in soils and heavy forest fuels is considered severe, combined with far more dead fuel components and higher flammability of live vegetation.


Tasmania

With little rain forecast an above normal fire risk is predicted.


South Australia

Parts of the Lower Eyre Peninsula have higher than normal grass fuel growth after some rain. This has increased the fuel load and created above-normal fire potential. There is also concern for dust storms during the windy conditions.


Western Australia

A dry and warm October resulted in less soil moisture creating the potential for more fuel with dried out vegetation. High fuel loads pose a higher than normal fire risk across the state.


Watch bushfire alert levels and stay informed

Tune into your local emergency broadcaster.

Daily fire ratings are:

  • Low-Moderate
  • High
  • Very High
  • Severe
  • Extreme
  • Code Red (Catastrophic)

Under a Code Red rating fire authorities advise leaving early as the only safe option. A Severe rating is serious and those who stay should only do so if they have a well-prepared building and know how to defend it. An Extreme rating is dangerous and a building must be prepared for bushfire at the highest level, and it needs to be specially built to survive in such conditions.

CATASTROPHIC is a rating that means no building is likely to survive these conditions. Leaving early is very important as the only safe option.

What to know when facing a fire threat

Have the following information in more than one location in your building and ensure it is easily accessible including bushfire information numbers, websites, and smartphone apps.

Stay informed about:

  • Warnings and updates, key information from fire authorities.
  • Local news including ABC Local radio, community radio stations, Sky News TV.
  • Community organisations, schools and aged care providers that may need to close.
  • In an emergency call Triple Zero (000).
  • Have other emergency hotlines in your state clearly visible.
  • Have emergency websites for reference if you need.
  • Check social media including Facebook groups and emergency services and fire authorities pages and Twitter regularly throughout the day.
  • Learn how to connect in an emergency through the National Relay Service (NRS) by visiting the Department of Communications website.
  • Translating and Interpreting Service phone number, 131 450, can be added to your list of important contacts.


Assess the fire risk to determine when to make the important decision to enact evacuation plans, close your school or childcare centre, or close your aged care facility. You may have already formalised how you will make this decision in your Emergency Management Plan.

The NSW Government has outlined the types of evacuations that may occur in a bushfire.

  • Immediate evacuation means there is virtually no warning or time to be ready.
  • A managed evacuation is based on a "watch and act" that prompts a decision to leave before a fire risk will have an impact. This decision could be made based on loss of power, for example, if there is interruption to phone and internet services. This will involve pre-planning and organisation before carrying out the evacuation.
  • Relocation is a type of evacuation which happens when an organisation makes a decision to move people, such as aged care residents, students or employees to another location. This could happen on a catastrophic fire danger day and mitigates fire risks by reducing the number of people present in a dangerous bushfire zone.
  • Consult with your people so that everyone knows when to activate an emergency management plan. Discuss and make a decision about evacuating based on weather forecast, fire danger ratings, or the advice of emergency services.


Know where to look for information on bushfires in your state:

Queensland

South Australia


New South Wales

Tasmania
ACT
  • ACT Emergency Services Agency 
  • ACT electronic media outlets, social media, Canberra Connect, Twitter @_ESA and ESA Facebook
  • Access Canberra 132281
  • Emergency Alert is assigned the number of 0444 444 444 displayed in the message header or caller identification, see www.emergencyalert.gov.au
Western Australia

Victoria



During a fire

Leaving early is always the safest move. Mobilising people when conditions are the most dangerous is risky. The longer it takes to determine whether or not to evacuate the more likely it becomes that lives are in danger.

Time management is critical for organisations under emergency conditions to evacuate numbers of staff or people in care. Particular care needs to be given to children, the elderly, disabled people, non-English speakers or those with sight or hearing impairments when making decisions in an emergencyKeep them informed about what is happening and provide them with clear instructions about what to do. Check that everyone is present in your organisation and who are in your care, and keep a head count at intervals until all are safely relocated. It's important to monitor the health and safety of people and animals you are responsible for so they remain hydrated.

Important phone numbers should be saved in mobile phones, and batteries for devices need to be charged. Check whether car phone chargers are placed in your vehicles. 

Have first aid kits handy for use if needed.  Emergency and evacuation management plans should be visible and easy to follow for staff. Communicate with people internally and externally if the emergency management plan is to be carried out. Explain what this means and who is likely to know. Families of people in care and parents of school students will need to have their own plans in place if an evacuation is to go ahead.

Remember – if you have a power outage then electric gates or remote control doors will not work. Have a back-up plan for how you will transport people.

Prepare the buildings of your property for potential fire before leaving, by turning off gas and electricity and closing windows and doors.


After a bushfire

Consult with emergency services to determine whether it's safe to return to your location. Monitor the health and safety of everyone in your care during the clean-up process when returning, because fire damage has the potential to create new safety risks, such as exposure to asbestos or harm from unstable building structures. People may be suffering from psychological trauma and it will be important to know how to get them support.


Know when to take cover
If bushfires have not affected your area it is not too late to prepare. Refer to CCI's Surviving Bushfire Fact Sheet and Checklist for more information on what you can do now to protect your people and property.  

Make sure you have adequate insurance

A bushfire can cause damage and loss of property, so it's important to know what you are covered for and whether your cover is up-to-date. Insurance may cover your building structure and its contents. You can contact CCI to find out more about your insurance coverage on 1800 011 028 or contact your Client Relationship Executive. 

 

For assistance with risk management, contact CCI's risksupport Helpdesk on: 1300 660 827.


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