When it is unsafe to leave – what should you actually do?

Four people have died in recent bushfires. All were in cars, driving while the fire was in their area. Whatever the reason for being on the road during a bushfire, it is far too often a fatal decision.

Authorities constantly warn: ‘ Driving in any bushfire is extremely dangerous and can be result in death’. At the same time, the same authorities cause confusion on this matter with contradictory messages.

A fire authority recently advised people in the affected areas: ’If the way is clear, leave immediately’. A way may look clear at the moment of setting out, but there is no guarantee that will stay that way. Embers blown from fires in the area can quickly ignite roadside vegetation, emitting killing radiant heat. Tree branches can fall and block the road. Obscuring, eye-shutting smoke can cause crashes. By the time an area is affected, it is too dangerous to leave.

It is such misleading messages that lead people to think they are doing the right, safe, thing and to act as did a farmer who told the ABC: ‘We got our family out of the house when we realised that our property was in the line of the fire yesterday.’ This is not the right, safe, thing. This is a perilous time to ‘get out’.

WHEN IT IS UNSAFE TO LEAVE – WHAT SHOULD YOU ACTUALLY DO?
First rule: Wear protective clothing. Have an emergency pure wool blanket. Drink water.

IF YOU CANNOT SHELTER IN A BUILDING
* Shelter behind a wall, beside a large bare-ground, fire resistant tree; in nor beside a car; in a dam (if no vegetation is near either) or crouch beneath a pure wool blanket on a bare or already burnt area.

IF YOU CAN SHELTER IN A BUILDING:
* Shut off gas and electricity at the mains.
* Put pets inside: dogs on leash, cats in covered cages.
* Take in outdoor furniture, doormats, hanging baskets, plastic pot plants.

WHEN YOU ARE INSIDE A BUILDING:
* Make sure all doors and windows are securely shut.
* Turn off air conditioners; cover their internal vents.
* If windows are unshuttered, cover with pure wool blankets, heavy quality quilts, foil or wet towels. Move flammable furniture away from windows.
* Wear protective clothing, nose mask, drink often, have pure wool blankets handy and cool off when possible
* Watch the conditions outside through a small window or peephole. When flaring shrubs have blackened it’s safe to go out again. Burning tree trunks do not generally emit killing radiant heat.

ACTIVE SHELTERERS (DEFENDERS)
* Take hose, sprayers and ladder inside with you.
* Fill bath & troughs with water, immerse towels, roll up and place at door gaps and window ledges. Plug keyholes with play dough, blue-tack or soap.
* Fill containers (e.g. garden sprayers) with water; put these, with dippers, mops etc, in each room.
* Watch for invading embers. Particularly in the ceiling space, through windows, gaps under doors. Quickly spray or hit with wet mop any sparks, embers or smouldering furnishings.
* If any ignition cannot be extinguished, close the door of that room.
* Always be able to see and have easy access to a door that open to outside.
* Never go outside during a flame front to douse an outside ignition.

PASSIVE SHELTERERS
* Close internal doors to limit fire spread if embers enter and ignite inside.
* Stay by a door that opens directly to outside.
* Put on protective clothing. Have a pure wool blanket.
* DO NOT shelter in an inner room. Not in the hallway. Not in the bath. If you shelter in ANY kind of inner room (no matter how many doors it has) you could be trapped. Embers may have ignited in ceiling space, sub-floor or wall cavities. Flaming walls or ceiling could collapse on you. Toxic fumes from smouldering cushions or wall linings could overcome you.
* Exit as soon as the potentially killing radiant heat from flames outside has died down.

HOW TO EXIT SAFELY
* Exit very carefully, preferably from a door that is sheltered from the wind (and therefore sparks and embers) and is unlikely to be ignited.
* Wear protective clothing & nose cover, cover yourself with your blanket, crouch, lower your eyelids and open the door gradually.

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