Advice from Australia - Fire Response

12 Sep 2020 5:32 PM | Darren Lloyd (Administrator)

The following is a guest piece from Sarah Groube (@groubes), a friend and fellow footy supporter from Australia. She writes to those who are impacted by closing in fires or those dealing with smoke in their homes. I thought we could learn from her experiences during the massive fires in Australia earlier this year. Please continue to monitor evacuation levels and follow advice from local authorities.

In southeast Australia, the fires burned from November 2019 to mid February 2020. It took a flood to put them out. Covid was in the country within weeks.

Given the magnitude of the fires, we had power and cell phone tower failures for hours, days, or weeks at a time during the fires. We’re really not used to living without those services, and rely on them for information.

This was different to anything we had ever experienced. Friends reported evacuating time and time again: back home, out again, back home. Our clothes smelled like a campfire for four months. P2 Masks weren’t available to help with the smoke because there was so much fire, and because China needed them for a pandemic that was taking hold.

This is not official advice, I’m not a Medico or firey, and do not offer these as life saving tips. You should follow the advice of local professionals for that. These are tips that helped us, or that we learned in the aftermath in hindsight. We didn’t lose our property (thanks to a wind change), nor were we in the path of the fire, but we left when ‘watch and act’ warnings came, because we could. We found that when evacuation orders were given, sometimes roads out of the region were already closed and the only options were evacuation centres, so we chose the ‘leave early’ option. We totally appreciate that not everyone has that option. Even if the fire doesn’t impact you directly, it might affect you through smoke and loss of services.

An evacuation warning is more stressful than you think it will be. Prepare a checklist of actions/items to grab so you don’t have to think at the time. We prepared our go-bag and safe at the back end of the fires. It’s fair to say that despite the annual warnings we really weren’t prepared.

Tips

  • If your home is smoky, wet some towels and hang them around your house. We pegged them to clothes hangers and hung them in doorways. Some say the smoke particles cling to them - I don’t know the science but it helped.

  • Don’t assume that because you’re ok that people know you’re ok - try to give regular updates to your loved ones. We didn’t hear from close family for nearly a week after the fires burnt through their town. They were totally fine. We were totally beside ourselves. Yes, land lines and mobile phones were down, but Red Cross usually have a comms service of some type - please check yourself in as safe.

  • Make sure you fill your car with Petrol (gas?). If an evacuation is called you don’t want to be queuing for hours or stuck on empty.

  • With the power failures, none of the credit card or EFT/POS facilities worked and people couldn’t withdraw cash. So withdraw some cash now.

  • While you have power, keep your phone charged, and charge your portable phone chargers.

  • Make sure you have lots of water in containers in case the water supply is affected.

  • A tip from a guy who was in the Christchurch earthquake and wished he knew this one, so we put it to good use which helped us in our recent floods - Put 1.25 litre bottles of water in your freezer so that when the electricity and water goes out you have freezer blocks to keep your food fresh, then you can drink the water when it defrosts.

  • Don’t overburden the electricity grid. Turn off non essentials.

  • Again - plan for comms and electricity to go down. And know that, even at midday, if the fire is nearby, there will be no daylight because the smoke will block the sun. We had some family who were ‘ready’... except they couldn’t find their shoes, torch or cat because it was unexpectedly pitch black at 10 a.m..

  • Listen to local radio - our community radio station had check ins with people on the ground near fire areas. Official sources take some time to verify info before they can broadcast or update apps, so this direct intel was invaluable.

  • Reverse park in your driveway so that when you need to leave you can literally drive straight out.

  • Have multiple plans to leave - roads close and the navigation systems you rely on in normal times won’t keep up with fire and emergency needs.

  • Have plan A, B and C for an evacuation. The Evac centre you plan to go to might be fire impacted. If you’re in a household, plan together. Communicate what you will do if you get separated.

  • Great quote I read after many in my family had spent new year in evacuation centres sleeping on hard basketball court floors “Evacuation centres are a life raft not a cruise ship” - take your own bedding, camp mattress, sleeping bag - and food.

  • If you can’t evacuate in time, make sure you are wearing long natural fibres - wool preferably. A pure wool blanket might be your best friend if confronted by fire. And fully enclosed shoes goes without saying. We had friends who were surrounded by fire on a beach - as well as good clothing and face masks, they had the foresight to grab some swimming goggles which protected their eyes from the smoke.

  • Don’t be complacent about how quick, and in which direction the fire can move. At the coast the fire came on New Year’s Eve which just didn’t compute with people, and they weren’t listening in to warnings as they were on holiday, and the fire wasn’t ‘expected’ for a few more days.

  • If/when you donate money, check to see who is on the ground helping. There are some big charities with big fundraising drives but there are some very worthy practical charities on the ground helping people and wildlife.

  • When grey ash is falling around, it’s a sign the fire is near (enough) and the wind is coming your way. Where we are, the ‘fire brand’ got heavier - burnt bark and sticks - the closer the fire was. No doubt it then feels hot, and then embers, but I don’t know because we left when it was ash.

  • Apps to download - windy - wind direction and speed is the most important intel and our fires created their own weather, air quality, s**t!ismoke

  • Pack a Go-Bag and have it in the car or easy to grab. Google it for what to include. Our essentials would be a battery operated radio, woolen clothes, underwear, toiletries, medication, water, torch (flashlight or lantern), phone charger, cash, long life food. Essential documents (in a fireproof safe if possible). 

  • We prepared our go-bag and safe at the back end of the fires. It’s fair to say that despite the annual warnings we really weren’t prepared.

It feels like it will never end, but it will.


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