08 December 2023

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Bushfires are as Aussie as barbecues and coastal getaways. They’re a summer companion, albeit an unwelcome one.

While the threat of bushfires – particularly when the mercury soars – is constant, commonsense, a plan and some preparation can temper the risks.

As Australia heads into the 2023-24 summer, the Bureau of Meteorology has updated its long-range forecast overview highlighting the drivers for a potentially bad bushfire season.

Until February:

  • Rainfall is likely to be below average
  • Maximum and minimum temperatures are very likely to be above average
  • Maximum and minimum temperatures are at least 2.5 times more likely than normal to be unusually high

In August, NSW Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS) Commissioner Rob Rogers said: “Wet weather over the last three years has caused prolific growth, and as we move out of this incredibly wet period the bushfire risk is returning to NSW.”

Assessing the risk of bushfire in and around your community is the first step to keeping you and your family safe during the bushfire season.

The second step is a plan.  

“Everybody needs to start preparing for bush fire season as we start to see fire activity on the rise across NSW,” Emergency Services Minister Jihad Dib said recently.

“Our Rural Fire Service volunteers are ready to respond to emergencies 365 days of the year, and it’s every landowner’s responsibility to be equally prepared for the threat of fire.”

Simple steps to prepare your health for disaster 

In response to natural disasters like bushfires and flood, SWSPHN has taken on new responsibilities to put measures in place to support our community in times of emergency.

One of those measures is a flyer which provides practical advice about preparing your health for disaster, as well as information about access to services. 

The flyer, Your health matters in a disaster, outlines five simple steps to help you and your family prepare in case a disaster occurs.

Find out more by downloading the media release and/ or flyer.

We have also developed a Practice Disaster Planning Guide to better prepare not only general practices, but staff and their patients in the event of a natural disaster.

The guide contains important checklists on how to prepare, step-by-step instructions on what to do during a disaster and a checklist for recovery.

Download the guide

Owner and director of Macarthur General Practice, Dr Kenneth McCroary, is reviewing the new guide by Alyssa Horgan from SWSPHN’s Disaster Response team.

Know your fire risk

Many Australians love incorporating nature into their lifestyle.

You may live in a rural or semi-rural area, near bushland, or enjoy trees and a flourishing garden on your block.

But the reality is you don’t need to be in the path of a bushfire to be at risk.

Ember attack is the most common cause of building damage or destruction from bushfires.

At least 80 per cent of properties in a bushfire are damaged due to embers.

  • Fire embers can spread many kilometres from the location of a large bushfire, causing smaller spot fires to break-out
  • Radiant heat can be felt more than 100m from a large bushfire and can melt or fracture objects including parts of cars and glass windows

The NSW Rural Fire Service has released a guide to help you to assess your bushfire risk, based on the type of area in which you live.

It details fire risks based on homes in bushland, near paddocks and grassland, where the bush or grasslands meet built-up areas and near the coast.

Evaluate your bushfire risk here.

You also should check your local council website and search for the Bush Fire Prone Land Map.

Minimise your fire risk

Being fire-ready is a routine you should practice all year round.

Your home is your largest investment, and some simple steps can protect it if a bushfire threatens and give you peace of mind.

There’s no guarantee it will be saved if the bushfire is ferocious, but it will stand a better chance if fire hazards around your property are reduced:

  • Trim overhanging trees and shrubs.
  • Mow grass and remove the cuttings. Have a cleared area around your home.
  • Remove material that can burn around your home, such as door mats, wood piles and mulch.
  • Clear and remove all the debris and leaves from the gutters surrounding your home.
  • Prepare a sturdy hose or hoses that will reach all around your home.

NSWRFS has a prepare your home factsheet for more information about how to fire-proof your home.

The CSIRO has a great resource, bushfire best practice guide. While it is designed for Victorians its suggestions on how to improve the bushfire resilience of your home and garden applies to all Australians.

The Healthdirect website also has some practical bushfire health and safety tips.

NSWRFS recommends four simple steps to ensure you are prepared for a bushfire threat. They also remove the panic when the threat becomes real.

Discuss: Know what you and your family will do if a fire threatens your home or property.

Prepare: Get your home and property ready for bushfire season, by keeping the grass low and clearing an area around your home.

Know: Be mindful of the Bush Fire Alert Levels and the Fire Danger Rating. These will give you an indication of how dangerous a fire near you will be.

Keep: In a bush fire, stay up to date on the situation in your area. It is important you do not rely on one source of information.

Bushfires – what do you do?

A practical Australian bushfire protocol to follow is:

  • Plan
  • Act
  • Recover

Plan: Assess your bushfire risk, consult with your household, and maybe your neighbours, and prepare a written plan of what you will do in a bushfire emergency: at what point will you leave your house, what will you take, where will you go and how will you get there. The NSWRFS has put together a guide to assist with your bushfire survival plan.

Prepare a survival kit and keep it updated and handy. The kit will save you time whether you’re packing to leave or preparing to stay and defend. It should include practical items such as a first-aid kit, shovel, bucket, hoses and smoke masks.

You should also pack an emergency kit if you plan to leave your home during a bushfire threat. The Red Cross has a preparation checklist of things to pack. It’s also a good idea to keep key documents in a safe place away from your home or saved online so you can access them when needed.

The Red Cross has emergency preparedness plan guides for people with different circumstances such as chronic illness, children, people with a physical disability and older people.

If there is the threat of a bushfire nearby, there are a number of websites and apps you can link into for weather and fire updates or accessible transport routes.

The Service NSW website provides emergency warnings and advice. Healthdirect has a list of emergency apps and online tools, while NSW Health also has a list of emergency numbers to call during a disaster.

Don’t forget your pets or stock need a contingency plan for the threat of bushfire. Take early action to protect or relocate them to a safe area.

Act: If you know there are bushfires in your region, act at once. Fires can start and move quickly, and a threat can be swift and limit options.

There are a few initial steps you should implement:

  • Monitor conditions outside. Your view from the front or back door can give you a sign of a bushfire nearby and the wind direction can tell you if it’s coming your way
  • Stay informed. Listen to the radio or check websites and apps. Keep all bush fire information numbers, websites and the smartphone apps in an easy-to-find place
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing made from natural fibres like wool, denim or heavy cotton and sturdy boots
  • Action your bushfire survival plan. If you don’t have a plan, you should leave early. Inform family and friends of your decision

Leaving early is always the safest option. Authorities now recommend this course of action. Make sure you are prepared if you plan on staying to protect your property.

The CSIRO advises that understanding the risks associated with bushfire will help you prepare your property.

Check out the NSWRFS bushfire factsheets for more information on bushfire safety. They are also available in languages other than English.

Recover: The days after a bushfire has swept through and destroyed a community are surreal. The landscape is grey, black and charred – and so are human spirits.

Even if your home and property haven’t been destroyed, there is still a foreboding of gloom and despair. The task ahead – coming to terms with loss, the clean-up and the rebuilding of not just your home and community but your life – takes time to get your head around.

Your capacity is diminished – while your spirit recovers.

While the effects of a disaster are immediate and localised, they often last for months. Even years. They include human, material, economic and environmental losses and impacts.

The Australian national bushfire health and wellbeing survey, conducted by Australian National University researchers, found the Black Summer bushfires across NSW in 2019–20 led to extensive mental health problems which persisted for more than 18 months after the devastating events.

Maintaining your mental health in challenging times is vital during and for recovery. Health Resource Directory has some good advice in its factsheet mental health during a disaster. Healthdirect also has good advice for all types of disasters and emergencies.

The Australian Red Cross has a checklist toolkit, recover from disaster, which offers useful information and guides those affected by disaster through some of those important steps in the days and months following. They include cleaning up, coping with a crisis, returning home and dealing with disaster anniversaries.

Service NSW also has links to practical advice and support in the aftermath of disasters as does SWSPHN (Mental and Emotional Support for People Affected by Bushfires).

Following a bushfire, whatever your decision is – to stay and rebuild, or start again elsewhere – be rest assured: there is support for you and your family, to get back on your feet and move forward and regain your joy of life.

For more information, visit:

NSW RFS – NSW Rural Fire Service

Service NSW

South Western Sydney Local Health District

NSW Health

Australian Red Cross | Act for humanity

National Emergency Management Agency

Trusted Health Advice | healthdirect

Health Resource Directory