Bushfire Season, Have You Cleaned Your Gutters?

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Bushfire Season, Have You Cleaned Your Gutters?

Bushfires can be many miles away and still affect communities.

The smoke is the most obvious indicator of fires. It can be very hazardous to asthmatics and people with respiratory issues. There are large particles that irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs which causes coughing and uneasy breathing and sore eyes. When there are finer particles entering deep in the lungs, much more damage is caused.

Smoke from the fires south of Kingston Tasmania, January 2019

The wind brings the smoke and with the wind, fine embers from the fire, known as ember attack.

Burning debris, such as, leaves, twigs and bark, are carried with the wind and can land on dry  material that can spark, creating another fire. In Australia, the bark on trees are considered the most dangerous source for ember attack. The Stringybark Eucalypt is well-known for dropping large sections of bark caught alight.

This is why it is so important to have a bushfire prevention plan in place. You need to be ready to prevent the embers attacking your home. Clear any dry, flammable materials, that are a fire hazard, away from your home; ie in your gutters, materials lying around the yard or dispose of any green waste from yard work. Store flammable chemicals according to code. Make sure your sprinkler system is maintained and working if you have one.

Summer is near and it is time to think about clearing up the debris from winter before it becomes dry and flammable.

Will you have water when you need it?

When a fire is approaching and you property and family is under threat, often times, the garden hose will simply not make the grade at offering you the water you need to protect and in some cases defend you home from a fire.

Now is the time to be fire prepared and you fire protection systems should NEVER miss the list. 

Here are top 7 suggestions to check or do:

  1. Check and replace as required any broken hoses and fittings.  When required, you want everything working.
  2. If you have a fire pump, then make sure it has been serviced and is in full working order. Remember your power is likely to be cut in a fire situation so you will need a petrol or diesel-powered pump, sized to run your fire hoses. If you don’t have a pump, could this be a good investment?
  3. Will you have the water supply when you need it?  In the event of a fire, the mains water supplies are often diverted to high pressure fire services units/trucks, so not only do you need to consider the pressure of your water supply in such an event, but whether you will be able to access water at all.  Consider your water supply such as water tanks.
  4. Where are your hoses placed?  Having access to your hoses and taps is essential when a fire is approaching.  Don’t have just a single hose on one side of your property because you may not be able to access it when the time comes.  Having hoses and taps at multiple locations will ensure having water when you need it most.
  5. Do you have the correct nozzle fittings to your hose to be able to disperse water at a flow and area that will give the correct firefighting coverage?
  6. Can everyone use your firefighting water systems?  Too often during emergency situations, when a time comes where these systems are required to be used, the person who knows how to use them are not present.  Don’t let a tragedy happen when all the right equipment was on hand for a good outcome, but it wasn’t used due to lack of know-how.
  7. Do you have the additional equipment and resources to help your firefighting?  Roof mounted sprinklers and blocking gutters and filling them with water is a great way to help defend and protect your property, even when you are evacuating.  The question is, do you have the necessary equipment and resources to do these tasks when they are needed?

Of course, the best plan of action is to listen to the directives of your local fire service and evacuate when directed.  Evacuation is the best plan, but in times when this is simply not possible, make sure you and your family are prepared to defend you home and your own personal safety.

Think Water specialises in system design, installation and servicing of everything water related.  As your local water expert, they have the product knowledge and experience to assist you with services and advice about water supply and firefighting equipment. 

If you believe you need to look at your firefighting systems or perhaps get the right one installed, contact your local Think Water expert. 

Find them here:   https://www.thinkwater.com.au/store-locator/

If a fire is approaching….

Before we even begin, there are a couple of things we need to say….

  1. Get all of your information from the local and state fire services.  They have the best tools and information to help you, including checklists and fire plans.
  • Being prepared is the key.  You do not want a fire to be approaching and you don’t have the items you need…  Check out our article on this at: https://www.guttervac.com.au/?p=10333  
  • LEAVING EARLY is always your SAFEST OPTION.  Don’t be a hero, leave early and protect your family.

The reality is that a bushfire can be a terrifying experience and will drain you emotionally, mentally and physically fast.  Bushfires are usually accompanied with strong winds, heat, heavy smoke.  This can tire you quickly, smoke will sting your eyes and it will be hard to breathe.  The sound of a bushfire is incredible with a loud roaring sound.  You can have embers coming down like rain and spot fires will occur.  Remember also that your power and water may be cut off so you it could be dark, noisy and you will be isolated.

Remember you are not the only person to consider so even though you may believe that you can cope with the above situation, remember that others – especially children – will not cope so leaving early will be a better plan than staying to defend your home.

Being prepared for a bushfire is key, even if you have a plan to leave early, because sometimes fires are unpredictable so even if you intention is to leave, always be prepared in case leaving is no longer an option for you.

Have a fire preparation plan is a must so simply go to your state fire service website and they have all the plans and checklists for you to go through.  Do this BEFORE you need it.  Make sure you have plan and that you communicate that plan to everyone in your home.  Speak to your neighbours, communicate your plan to them and how you can work together in the event of a fire if possible. 

If a fire is approaching and you cannot leave your home then here are some of the basic things to do to help protect your family.

  • Stay informed.  Have a portable, battery operated radio and take all emergency services advice.
  • Keep up to date with where the fire alerts are in your area and at what level
  • Keep all emergency numbers and website information in a readily available location
  • Make sure you drink lots of water so that you stay hydrated.
  • Turn off gas mains or disconnect gas bottles
  • Move any flammable items away from your home
  • Block down pipes (simply use a sock full of sand or dirt) and then fill your gutters with water.
  • Don’t get on the roof to do this, but hose down the roof with water – do this from the ground.
  • Remember embers can be blown to your property well before the fire front arrives, so make sure you have  buckets of water and mops ready to put out embers and spot fires
  • Have shovels or rakes available to cover fires with dirt or to move spot fires away
  • When the fire is approaching, wet down the side of the house (and the garden) that is facing the fire
  • Move any of your firefighting equipment to a place where it will not be burnt or caught in a place that you cannot access.
  • Close all windows, doors and vents
  • Fill baths, sinks, buckets and bins with water
  • Confine your pets into a single room – they will be scared too so ensure the room is secure and they cannot escape
  • Put a ladder next to your man hole so if you need to access the ceiling cavity to put out spot fires, you are ready.
  • Soak towels and rugs and lay them across external doorways
  • Move all furniture away from windows
  • Ensure that everyone is dressed in protective clothing
    • Long heavy cotton pants such as denim jeans
    • Long sleeve shirt – made of natural fibres such as cotton or wool
    • Thick woollen or cotton socks
    • Leather books or shoes, work boots
    • If you are going outside then a wide brimmed hat to protect from dropping embers landing on your head or rolling down your back
    • Googles to protect against smoke, embers and debris
    • Gloves that will protect your hands from radiant heat, embers and debris
    • A mask or cloth to cover nose and mouth so you don’t inhale smoke, ash and embers
    • For those inside, woollen rugs and blankets are also a good idea for protection along with wet towels
  • If flames or fire front is now on top of you or the heat is unbearable, move inside until the fire has passed
  • Make sure you continue to patrol the inside of your home looking for sparks and embers
  • Shelter in a room on the opposite side of the house to the approaching fire and ensure you have a clear access to an exit
  • Once the fire has passed, check the inside and outside for fires including in the ceiling cavity, under the house, decks and stairs
  • Contact relatives or a friend to let them know you are safe
  • If possible, check in with your neighbours and make sure they are ok
  • Continue to patrol your home for several house to extinguish any small fires or burning embers

Remember, the safest option is to leave early.  The emergency services give these warnings with plenty of notice, so don’t ignore them, act on them.  Although you may believe you can defend your home, bushfires are unpredictable and more powerful than many people realise if they have never gone through this situation.  You want to leave early, but hopefully, this list has given you some information in the event that you need it. 

As we said, the best source of your information is your state fire service.

We take safety seriously, but we also take bushfires seriously.  One of the major to do items that every fire service will tell you is to have your gutters cleaned. 

EVERY year (because every year there is a devastating fire in Australia, just some years there are more than others) we have customers call us after a bushfire to say thank you because their home as made it through the fires and the fires services have told them that this was because they had a well maintained, fire prepared property and they have clean gutters.  It is amazing how many times we hear this, so this year, as we do every year, we want to continue to spread the message to be prepared for fires and leaving early is the safest option.

Don’t be flippant when it comes to fire.

Did you know excess dry leaves in your gutters can be compared to stacking tins of petrol on your roof in a bushfire?

If your home is not prepared, it can also pose an increased risk to your neighbour’s property.

We are still in the midst of the fire season in Queensland, it is important to stay vigilant about your bush fire preparation plan.

Who is most at risk in Brisbane and surrounds?

If your home is near an area of vegetation, or ‘green belt’ as the firefighters call it, you could be more at risk.

Areas such as this include The Gap, Mt Nebo, Mt Glorious, as well as locations further north of Brisbane. Vicinities surrounded by shrubbery and vegetation can prove to be very challenging landscapes for firefighters for a number of reasons. 

Accessibility can be an obstacle in rural localities. Firefighters generally use their smaller 4WD vehicles to access rural areas. Unsealed roads will not accommodate the big tankers. Unsealed roads quickly turn to mud when they come into contact with water, and the big vehicles will become bogged.

Accessing a reliable water supply can also be difficult. Many homes in rural areas use off-grid water. This can prove to be a challenge as if the firefighters have to use the smaller vehicles; they can only hold a certain amount of water.

Bushfires are notoriously unpredictable, so the best way to prepare is to plan ahead, implementing as many preventative strategies as possible.

What should people do around their home to prepare?

The following points below are recommended by fire authorities:

  • Ensure there is easy entry and room for firefighting vehicles to access your property.
  • Make sure paths to your property are clear from combustible matter such as dead branches, dry leaves etc.
  • Invest in a hose that reaches all the way around the house.
  • Make sure your gutters are clean and free from debris that will act as fuel for flames in the event of a bushfire.
  • Trim overhanging trees.
  • Regularly mow your grass.
  • Make sure your house number can be easily seen by emergency services.
  • Consider planting fire resistant trees around your home. Certain trees are more prone to igniting than others and it is possible for embers or sparks from trees to travel large distances. Cyprus, pines, and eucalyptus for example contain flammable oils in their leaves that readily burn. While there are no ‘fire proof’ trees, you can look for species that contain moisture in their leaves. Avoid trees with stringy, rough bark that easily comes loose.
  • Use non-flammable mulches around the house such as gravel, pebbles and shells. Avoid using combustible woodchip mulches where possible near your house.
  • Review and practice your Bushfire Survival Plan regularly.

For further information on how to plan, the Queensland Government Rural Fire Service website is a valuable resource.

The good news is you can take steps to prepare for a bushfire and make your house less vulnerable to an ember attack.

What if there is a fire that ignites in your gutters?

Firstly, it is advisable to contact emergency services. Firies say if you are both PRACTISED and PREPARED, then you can get a hose onto it yourself from the ground.  You need to wear long-sleeve clothing and protective gear. If you are not prepared and have not practiced a plan, fire authorities say to LEAVE. One of the best preventions is a clean gutter as if an ember was to land there, it may just self-extinguish – alleviating all worry.