We speak with a fire safety expert on the 5 things you should tell your kids so your family is prepared for Australia’s bushfire season.

Bushfires are a huge part of life in Australia. There are often multiple large and out-of-control fires burning across the country during the summer. Considered one of Australia’s largest natural disasters, bushfires are a tragic and deadly part of our history.

The return of El Niño to Australia heightens the risks for this bushfire season. It is crucial that you and your family are well prepared. But how? Read on.

Why does El Niño matter?

Before we share expert advice on how to be prepared this bushfire season, let’s explain the focus on El Niño when it comes to the risks.

El Niño describes the extensive warming of the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. This leads to significant changes in weather patterns across the Pacific. Trade winds weaken, warmer surface water builds up and Australian rainfall is suppressed. As a result, there are much drier conditions, less vegetation growth and drought.

As summer starts, bringing extreme heat, there is an increased drying effect. When combined with high winds, the results are catastrophic bushfire conditions. The devastating 2019 fires aptly named “Black Summer” came directly off the back of the 2019-2020 El Niño weather event which had caused the hottest and driest year on record for Australia.

Expert advice: How to be prepared for bushfires

The key to being prepared is to first know the risks of where you live, as they are going to be different. For those who live in high-risk bushfire areas, it’s important to stay up-to-date with the current fire danger ratings and have your home well-prepared.

1. Have a fire plan

“The easiest way to be prepared is with a fire plan,” said Tony Talbot, a fire safety expert at Brooks Australia.

Don’t underestimate the importance of a fire plan. When an emergency arises and panic is high, people need to know what to do and where to go, and you don’t have time to think about it. If you and your family do not have a fire plan, you’re increasing the risk of being caught in a dangerous situation.

We show you how to create a fire plan later.

2. Prepare the kids

When there is a fire, will your children have any idea of what to do and where to go? Having a fire plan is one thing, but talking about it is crucial, especially with young children.

“We’ve done some research and only 30 per cent of people with kids under five have even mentioned or started talking about a fire plan with their kids,” says Tony.

Tony recommends parents have a general chat regularly with their kids (such as over the dinner table) about the importance of a fire safety plan.

Here are five questions you should ask your kids to get them thinking:

  1. What would we do if there was a fire?
  2. Where are our exits at home?
  3. Where is our agreed safe place to go if there is a fire?
  4. Who do we call?
  5. What things do we take if there is a fire?

3. Don’t forget the fridge

Have a small bullet point list on the fridge with crucial information and simple steps to follow. Many kids keep their artwork, photos and all sorts of miscellaneous items there, making the family fridge a great reminder spot.

What is a fire plan and how to create one

A fire plan is much like that piece of laminated paper you often see inside a hotel room with a diagram of the floor plan, exits, access to fire extinguishers and an assembly point. It’s an evacuation plan that ensures there are multiple options for safely making it outside of the building and away from the fire.

Naturally, your fire plan will be different to anybody else’s as it depends on where you live and the configuration of your house’s exits. Your fire plan must be clearly outlined and include important contact numbers such as 000 for emergency services, and any other significant numbers such as that of family or friends. In an emergency situation, you may not have access to your mobile phone and therefore may need to have some numbers memorised.

Ensure everyone at home knows where the emergency survival kit (see below) is kept and what needs to be inside it.

Note: If you live in a rural, high-risk, bushfire-prone area, your bushfire survival plan will look very different compared to someone living in the city. It should include a property preparation checklist that you can check off before the warmer months even hit.

Bushfire emergency kit: What to pack?

A bushfire emergency kit or emergency survival kit is often the only thing you have time to grab in a hurry.

If there is a fire threat and you have to evacuate your home, it is important you leave as quickly and safely as possible. It can take under two minutes for an entire room to be engulfed in flames. You need to act rapidly.

In the case of large regional fires, it may be days before you can return home and access essential items. An emergency kit can help you practically and give you hope during a difficult time.

Pack the following items for your bushfire survival kit:

  • Copies of important documents (birth certificates, marriage certificates, passports, driver’s licences, etc)
  • A small amount of cash
  • A spare set of keys
  • A small first-aid kit
  • Bottled drinking water
  • A roll of toilet paper
  • One toy for each child, if you have young children
  • Spare batteries or power banks in case you don’t have access to power

Adapt your emergency kit pack based on how many people are in the house and the ages of your children.

Resist the urge to pack things that are not going to assist you and just stick to essential items. Taking your favourite shoes, clothes or photo albums is going to weigh you down. They may delay your escape, putting you at increased risk and therefore should not be your most important items. Life is the most important and precious treasure and something you can’t replace.

Remember you may not be leaving out the front door, depending on where the fire is. Have your overnight bag or “go bag” in an easily accessible part of the house.

Safety is number 1

If you live in a high-risk area, make sure you have up-to-date information and be aware of any emergency alerts for your region. Too many lives have been lost because people decided to stay and defend their homes, or they left too late trying to gather precious belongings. The cost is far too high and one you simply do not want to pay. A human holding a garden hose is no match for a large bushfire.

Being bushfire ready means prioritising safety above your house, clothes, shoes and memorabilia. Treasure family above everything else.

In summary, bushfire preparation includes:

  • Know the bushfire risk for your area and plan accordingly.
  • Have a bushfire plan: Identify exit options and assembly points.
  • Make sure every family member, even—especially—the kids know the plan.
  • Have an easily accessible survival bag with only important things, such as legal documents, water and cash.
  • Have a well-prepared home and property by keeping the outside clean and clear of rubbish or dry leaves. Remember, fire embers can travel for long distances. Avoid grass fires by keeping vegetation green as much as possible.
  • Keep the inside of the home safe with functioning smoke detectors.

Read: This is what being the wife of a firefighter really means 

Download a free guideline template for creating your own fire safety plan from Brooks Australia.

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