5 simple (but often forgotten) ways to prepare for the bushfire season

Summer is upon us and the bushfire risk is set to soar in several states across Australia. According to data released by the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA), an estimated 1.75 million blocks of land face significant bushfire risk, highlighting the need to prepare for the bushfire season.

A well prepared property – whether it’s your home, your business or both – is more likely to survive a fire than an unprepared one, and it’s also:

  • easier for firefighters to defend;
  • less likely to spread fire and put neighbouring properties at risk; and
  • better able to protect you in the event you’re not able to evacuate safely.

Bushfire safety is everyone’s responsibility, and taking the time to prepare for the bushfire season will put you and your loved ones in a much safer position. Here are five simple but often forgotten ways to prepare your property:  

1. Clear your gutters of leaves and debris

Your gutters collect (and often become clogged) with dead leaves, bark, branches and other debris that can easily ignite if exposed to an ember attack, radiant heat or direct fire. Regularly clearing your gutters is one of the easiest ways to prepare for the bushfire season, and it will significantly reduce the risk of ignition during a bushfire.  

2. Install an ember guard or a gutter guard

Did you know that the new building standards for properties in bushfire-prone areas may require you to install an ember guard?

An ember guard is designed to prevent embers from compromising areas like your roof cavity, which are high risk and extremely vulnerable to fire. The requirements for an ember guard vary depending on which bush fire attack level (BAL) applies to your area, but as a general rule your ember guard should be:

  • be made of corrosion-resistant steel, bronze or aluminium;
  • be non-combustible; and
  • have a maximum gap (or ‘aperture’) of 2mm.

Remember: carefully review your BAL and the associated construction requirements before installing an ember guard.

Those not living in bushfire-prone areas aren’t required to have ember guards, but you should consider installing a gutter guard instead. Strictly speaking, your gutter guard need only be non-combustible in order to be compliant with building standards – but choosing one that meets the requirements of an ember guard will help keep debris out of your gutters and prevent an ember attack.

3. Check your roof and repair any damaged or missing tiles

Falling embers and flammable material can easily fall into cracks, holes and gaps in your roof. These ignite easily and put your property at significant risk.

That’s why you should check the condition of your roof and take steps to ensure it’s in the best shape possible leading into bushfire season:

  • Check that roof tiles, sheets and other covers are non-combustible. Concrete and terracotta tiles are fully compliant with residential building standards in bushfire-prone areas, but you need to make sure there are no cracks, gaps or missing tiles.
  • Fill gaps greater than 3mm between the roof and wall junction. You can use fascia or eaves lining for this, or you can seal the top of your walls to the rafters at the lining.
  • Sark sheet and tiled roofs. Sarking involves laying board or sheet material under tiles or iron. This prevents embers from entering your property.

4. Seal gaps in window sills and under doors

According to the Country Fire Authority of Victoria and the NSW Rural Fire Service, research consistently shows that ember attacks are responsible for most bushfire-related house and structure fires.

Hot embers, moved by strong winds during bushfires, enter buildings through open windows, gaps in window sills and even under doors. Wind-borne embers pose a threat to properties in all BAL areas, as they can come into contact with materials in your home that ignite easily and cause internal fires.  

You’re much more likely to be exposed to an ember attack than radiant heat or direct flames during a bushfire. Fortunately, you can take steps to prevent hot embers from entering your property:

  • Cover or seal any gaps greater than 3mm in your walls and fascias with non-combustible materials, or bushfire-resistant timber.
  • Fit windows with external screens or bushfire shutters. The requirements for screens and shutters depend on your BAL and on the type of windows you have. Consult the building code before making a choice.
  • Check skylights, vents, window ledges and other areas for gaps or cracks. These crevices can be entry points for embers, but they’re easy to cover with compliant, non-combustible wire mesh.
  • Keep garage doors closed. Combustible materials are often kept in garages. Simply keeping the doors closed will help eliminate the threat of embers igniting them.

5. Keep your lawns and gardens well maintained

Vegetation is fuel for a bushfire. One of the best ways to prepare your property, therefore, is to keep your lawns and gardens well maintained.

A mowed lawn clear of fallen leaves, twigs, branches and other debris will starve a fire and protect surrounding buildings. You should also remove any dry grass and undergrowth from beneath your home and other structures. It’s also important to cut back on trees or shrubs that may be overhanging your roof.

Your local fire service may offer free one-off services to help you or your loved ones clear vegetation and tend to gardens. The NSW Rural Fire Service AIDER program, for example, provides assistance for people with disabilities or limited domestic support. Check with your local fire service what assistance, if any, may be available to you.

And remember: check your insurance!

Taking preventative steps to prepare for the bushfire season not only protects your property – it protects your neighbours and surrounding buildings too.

But unfortunately, even the most prepared home or business can sustain damage in a bushfire. This is why having adequate, up-to-date insurance cover is essential.

  • If you’re a homeowner, take some time to review your home and contents insurance to make sure that everything is covered and you’re not underinsured. People living in bushfire-prone areas should consider getting total replacement cover, which includes all the costs of rebuilding a home should it be destroyed.
  • If you’re a business owner, review your property insurance with your broker to make sure your insurable risks are covered.

There are many ways to prepare for bushfire season, and the tips given above are just some ways to get started. For more guidance you can contact your local fire service or local council. You can also talk to your local insurance broker for more advice about risk mitigation, and how best to protect your property.

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