Bushfire advice

Bushfire advice

The advice given here relates largely to bushfires that may be encountered in Australia (though of course much will apply to fires in any remote country area).

Bushfires start small. The spread and heat of bushfires is determined by wind, slope and available fuel such as leaves, twigs and vegetation. Fire will generally travel faster up a slope than it will down a slope. Fire will travel with the wind, rather than against it. Fire will travel faster in fine fuels and where vegetation is thicker and drier, than it will in vegetation that is damp, sparse or composed of larger material.

Before leaving home
Check the weather forecast. If hot, dry and windy conditions are forecast, plan your trip carefully. You may need to change or adapt your itinerary. Review your walk, considering any shelters such as lakes, the ocean, running streams or wet gullies where refuge can be taken should you get into difficulty.
Let someone know when and where you plan to walk and camp before leaving. Use the logbooks to record your trip intentions, and follow instructions from PWS staff and signs – particularly track closed signs. Just because you can’t see the fire doesn’t mean there isn’t one threatening the area.

Radiant heat
Heat generated from a fire is called radiant heat. If you put your hand near an open flame you can feel the radiant heat. In very hot bushfires this heat affects people well before the actual flames reach them. Death is often caused by heat stroke, when the body's cooling system fails, leading to heat exhaustion and heart failure. Appropriate clothing can shield your skin from from radiant heat. Wear clothes that cover and protect all exposed skin – preferably natural fibres. A lot of bushwalking gear has a high plastic content that will melt to your skin. 
If walking and caught in a bushfire
Do not run unless to a clearly indicated way of escape. Do not try to out run the fire uphill as fires travel faster uphill. Look for areas that are flat and contain very little vegetation.
Seek shelter from the fire. Shelter can include:
• a running steam, a wet gully, a lake or tarn, or the ocean
• eroded gullies free of vegetation
• deep wheel ruts or cuttings on the road
• rocky outcrops or open areas with little or no vegetation, including gravel pits
• an area that has been recently burnt
Avoid taking shelter in concrete or galvanised steel water tanks, they have a tendency to explode!

1 Clear any leaves or vegetation matter that can burn near your shelter.
2 Stay in your chosen shelter until the fire has passed.
3 Cover any exposed skin with clothing, soft earth, anything to shield you from the heat.
4 Keep low and breathe air close to the ground where it is cooler and contains less smoke.
5 If there is no immediate shelter around and the fire is advancing, you have very little chance of survival in the open. Try to move away from the hottest part of the fire.
Only as a last resort, run through the flames onto burnt ground.
If you have to run through the flames:
• Chose a place where the flames and heat are lower and where there is, or will be, little burning material on the ground behind the fire front.
• Wait for a lull and when you can see over and through the flames take a deep breath and briskly walk through covering your face as much as possible. Stay in the burnt area.
• Flames greater than your height are too hazardous to run through.

Richard Hardy