How to prepare for bushfire season
Natural disasters can occur at any time, and without plans you could make panicked wrong decisions that threaten the safety of your family, yourself and your pets.
With plans in place you will be prepared to evacuate fast or stay put with sufficient supplies when a disaster strikes.
It is important that your emergency plan include not only yourself and your family, but should include considerations for your pets, livestock and companion animals.
20 essential steps before the fire season
This checklist is relevant to everybody – whether you’ve got a dairy, broad acre, stud farm, a plantation or an orchard.
Use this list as a reminder:
Have a routine in place for fire risk days (moving stock and limiting or postponing machinery use, switching off electric fences). Make sure everyone on your property is aware of it.
Have water fire extinguishers or knapsack spray pumps (minimum 9 litres) available that can be carried by any person using farm equipment or machinery.
Know your trigger to leave early on fire risk days and the trigger to leave for family members, employees or contractors. Plan for contingencies such as children at school.
Have a safety strategy in place for storing and monitoring hay- purchase a moisture metre if necessary.
Reduce fuel loads around assets (house blocks, sheds and create strategic fuel breaks.
Make sure hay is fully cured before baling.
Create a heavily grazed area where stock can be moved to during a fire
If you have private firefighting equipment, conduct a ‘refresher’ session with family and employees to make sure everyone can use it.
Apply to the relevant authority if you need to remove vegetation or manage fuel on roadsides.
Make sure your property number is clearly visible so emergency services can identify it when approaching the entrance.
Make sure there are no gaps between the cladding and the ground slab of your sheds to prevent embers getting inside.
Check access tracks around your property. Consider if access for fire trucks can be improved by clearing vegetation, signposting dead ends or creating turning circles
Make a list of restrictions (including Fire Danger Period and Total Fire Ban) relevant to your property. Display it or keep it handy so everyone on your property can refer to it often and easily.
Make sure water supplies around your property are clearly marked in case emergency services need to access them.
Check with your local council to see if local laws are in place for lighting fires, burning off or using incinerators.
If you plan to stay and defend a building during a bushfire, take steps to establish a water supply of at least 10 000 litres (independent of mains water supply)
Apply for the appropriate permit from your local council if you intend to burn off weeds stubble or vegetation during the Fire Danger Period (FDP), or if you intend to use fire for any other purposes.
Have the contact details of your local council as a first point of contact for recovery after a fire.
Double check that spark arrestors on machinery are working and efficient. Make sure chainsaws are free from faults.
Know which government grants, compensation and other types of assistance that you may be eligible for the help you recover from the impact of fire.
The 20 Essential Steps: Before the Fire Season Checklist can be found in the Country Fire Authority’s “On the Land: Agricultural Management Guidelines”.
Evacuation is the relocation of people from dangerous areas to safer areas, as well as their return to the area once the situation is safe.
An evacuation may apply to a specific locality, an institution (i.e. a school or hospital), a town or a large area of the state.
In Victoria, evacuation is largely voluntary and it is the choice of the individual as to how they respond to this recommendation.
In some circumstances, legislation provides emergency services with the authority to remove people from an area, or prohibit entry. Information on these circumstances can be found in the EMMV, Part 3 – State Emergency Response Plan.
Bushfire survival plans
The most important aspect of fire management is the safety of people. The Country Fire Authority (CFA) recommends you develop a bushfire survival plan to help protect your family, workers and visitors. Do you have contingency plan if fire affects your land?
It is strongly recommended you read On the Land: Agricultural Fire Management Guidelines as this booklet contains many checklists to be considered.
See also the CFA bushfire survival planning template.
Livestock and pet fire plans
All livestock and pets should be included when developing and activating fire plans. Planning helps to minimise the risk to livestock and pets and helps your financial and emotional wellbeing.
Deciding when to enact your fire plan will be based on the weather or the immediate threat of fire in your area. Listen to the radio and observe your own environment to decide when to put your plan into action.
For information, visit
- CFA - Pets and bushfires
- Pets and emergencies
- Horses and livestock in emergencies
- Horses affected by bushfires
- World Animal Protection: Free disaster pack
Emergency stock containment area
To reduce potential injury and death to livestock you should consider relocating stock to designated low risk areas during days of high fire danger and Total Fire Bans. Low risk areas include:
- Ploughed paddocks, areas cultivated and kept free of combustible vegetation
- Bared-out paddocks, provided they are well defended by fire breaks
- Irrigated paddocks or paddocks containing green summer crops (green feed does not burn easily)
- Stockyards that can be wet in advance. However, the yards must be well defended as the fire front passes.
You should relocate stock to low risk areas once you are aware a fire is in your area, well before it poses an imminent threat.
Often there is not enough time to move stock at the last minute. Radiant heat from fire has resulted in the injury and death of people and livestock caught out in the open, so ensure you have a plan and put it into action as soon as warranted.
If you do not have an appropriate low risk area it may be an option to truck them to another property or open internal gates to give stock the ability to move away from the path of the fire. Do not open gates onto roadways as livestock on the roads creates hazards for vehicles.
The CFA recommends that you do not lock gates and that you switch off electric fencing.
Preparing your vineyard for a fire
See what actions you can take to minimise the risk of fire damage to your vineyard.
The need for insurance differs from farm to farm according to financial circumstances and an individual’s preparedness to take or share risk. However, one constant is that all who are affected in an intense fire suffer some degree of trauma.
There is also no doubt this trauma can be significantly alleviated if insurances are in order and provide adequate cover for losses.
Those who insure wisely are the quickest to recover and to begin restoring boundary fencing and planning for their future. With rapidly rising operational costs, farmers are often tempted to cut back on insurance and accept more risk.
The temptation to do this should be resisted and instead alternatives explored before a decision to accept more risk is taken. Careful financial planning before a crisis is key to ensuring your farming future.
Firstly, choose your insurance company carefully. Shop around to get the best deal but always make sure the company you select has a good rural policy and fully understands the needs of a commercial farming or grazing property and of your own personal needs.
Go through your policies with the company representative on an annual basis and adjust where necessary. The increasing complexity and cost of plant and equipment should be taken into account each year when determining what to insure and to what level.
The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) offers a free Find an Insurer service at findaninsurer.com.au.
The service enables consumers and businesses to search a comprehensive database of general insurers and their products. Insurance on homestead and major buildings is recommended even if you have carried out fire prevention works recommended by the CFA because fire is highly unpredictable as to where and when it strikes.
Having assets and stock lost in a fire but covered by insurance is likely to result in a loss of income by the time they are replaced and reproduce. Business interruption insurance will return to the insured the amount of profit that would have been earned had there been no fire. The cost of this insurance is similar to asset insurance rates.
Finally, insurance is designed to provide a safe guard against adversity and give peace of mind to those whose assets are vulnerable to the ravages of fire and other disasters.
Your insurer or assessor should always be the primary contact regarding your claim. However, the Insurance Council of Australia can provide general insurance information about managing your claim or how to lodge a complaint. Please call 1800 734 621 for further information. You can find information on lodging a claim following a disaster at disasters.org.au.
A check list of items to remember includes:
- home buildings
- farm buildings
- machinery (mobile and fixed, including breakdown)
- all major crops including re-sowing subsidy
- electronic equipment
- working dogs.
Questions to ask when considering insurance
What is the risk of theft?
What is the history of destructive wind, hail, flooding and fire in my area?
Are there ways I can mitigate or reduce those risks before taking out insurance cover? Does my operation require straying stock cover?
Does my farm have unique or uncommon operations, such as GM crops, hydroponics etc. Are these operations covered?
Does my operation require public liability insurance?
If my farm ceases to provide an income or ceases production, should I consider business interruption insurance?