• Tania Wee

What to do in a bushfire

Australia is burning and what a heartbreaking sight it is to see families displaced from their homes, millions of hectares of land burnt and endangered wildlife losing their lives and their natural habitats in the millions. This is the worst bushfire Australia has experienced ever and it is not yet over.

If you’re a tourist visiting Australia on a holiday, a bushfire is probably something you will not expect yourself to encounter. But as witnessed in the recent disaster, an uncontained bushfire can easily blaze out of control and cause tremendous damage to the land and wildlife. Most Australian households have a bushfire survival kit prepared but a tourist will most likely not even think of it.


How and why are bushfires so dangerous?

Early preparation can save your life as in times of crisis, there will be critical decision making that needs to be made. So to be as safe as possible when faced with a bushfire threat, always remember to prepare – act – survive.


PREPARE

Before you fly

  • Check with your travel insurance: it might not cover bushfires. You’ll need to have taken out the policy in advance of the disaster starting. Talk to your insurance if you decide it’s more sensible not to travel.

  • Make sure that you’ll have full mobile phone data and call connectivity, so pick up a SIM card at the airport or get an eSIM if your phone supports them.

  • · Somewhat confusingly for visitors, every Australian state and territory has its own sources of information, and separate authorities for emergency information, including bushfires.

  • Find out what bushfire safety plans are in place in the area where you are camping, caravanning or renting accommodation. Most hotels and accommodations will have their own plans so ask in advance.

  • Know the most up-to-date fire danger rating in the area via the local radio stations or social media or checking with the local fire agency.

  • Find the nearest Neighbourhood Safer Place when you are staying in a high-risk fire area and know alternative routes to leave your destination.

  • Plan activities carefully on hot, dry and windy days. Contact the visitor information centres for safe tourist activities and locations.

  • Pack your own emergency survival kit and have it accessible at all times.

ACT

In the event of a bushfire

During a bushfire

  • Keep your family and friends updated of your movements.

  • Only if it’s safe to do so, update on social media to tell others what you can see. This will help the community with first-hand and reliable knowledge on what’s happening.

  • Seek shelter away from the radiant heat. If in a building, make sure there is a point of exit in every room. Ensure you can see what’s happening in your surroundings.

  • Radiant heat can be blocked by a solid object such as a concrete wall or building which creates a barrier between you and the fire.

What is Radiant heat

  • Being outdoors during a bushfire means you risk exposure to radiant heat, which can kill a human without flames ever touching them.

  • Extreme temperatures from radiant cause death from heatstroke where the body's cooling system fails, leading to heat exhaustion and heart failure.

  • Ensure you continue to stay cool and keep drinking water to stay hydrated.

  • If someone is affected by heatstroke, move them to a shaded area and try to cool them down. Call triple-0 and seek help immediately.

Driving

This is a last resort. Cars are a very dangerous place to be during a bushfire as they offer very little protection from radiant heat.


SURVIVE

After a bushfire

  • Check with official agencies, authorities, media and social media for updates and instructions

  • In case you become separated from loved ones, inform an authority or Red Cross.

  • Red Cross manages Register. Find. Reunite, a national registration and enquiry service. When the service is activated, people can register at www.redcross.org.au or in person at an evacuation or relief centre. You can also use the website if you are unable to contact a loved one who may have been affected.

What’s happening in Australia now is undoubtedly tragic. But only through preventive and preparation, can an event such as this be avoided and managed in future. Similarly, a visitor to this beautiful unique continent can do their part as well.


sources: NSW Rural Fire Service, Lonely Planet, ABC Emergency

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